Smoking & Oral Health

Jamie J. Alexander on May 12, 2015

Among the things I see in my practice that I wish I could change is the occurrence of cigarette smoking.

Even though the health risks associated with smoking are well known, the social and mood enhancing aspects of smoking are surprisingly still enticing to todays teenage group, and before they know it, they are addicted to nicotine and their young bodies are being affected, including their oral health.

Teen Smokers Have Four Times the Risk of Gum Disease

The American Cancer Society tells the public that damage to the lungs begins early in smokers, and cigarette smokers have a lower level of lung function than non-smokers of the same age. Lung function continues to worsen as long as the person smokes, but it may take years for the problem to become noticeable enough for lung disease to be diagnosed. Among the pulmonary diseases are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer.

Our teens and young adults feel healthy and invincible, with years ahead of them to stop smoking. Living in the present, they become “hooked” on a habit that is mentally, emotionally, and physically difficult to quit. Before they know it, they are addicted. I was a teen once. I understand.

I have spent a fair amount of time counseling addicts who want to recover, helping them recover, and working with them to restore a maintainable high level of oral health. If you are addicted to smoking, I will be more than happy to help you achieve the goal of smoking cessation by helping you design a plan of behaviors and therapeutic nicotine withdrawal that will work for you…but you have to want to quit.

If you are the parent of a teen who smokes, your teen is likely to hold up his or her hand to stop you when you tell them why they should quit. But, this does not deter me from telling them about the risks every time a smoker is in my dental chair. And, when a teen has painful cavities and/or inflamed and bleeding gums and wants not only pain relief but also a handsome or beautiful smile, they are more motivated to really hear the message.

The Effects of Smoking on Oral Health

The message is this. Not only does smoking reduce your lung function, it injures the lungs and soft tissue of your mouth and throat. Studies have shown that tobacco is a significant risk factor for periodontal disease (four times greater risk) and that, even at a very young age when there are no other physical problems, smokers have deeper gum pockets than nonsmokers.

Gum pockets form when bacteria, in the mouth, colonize below the gum line. The bacteria produce acid as they feed on and digest the carbohydrates on our teeth (left from the foods we eat). This acid destroys tooth enamel, and the gum and bone tissues that support the teeth. The body’s natural response is to fight against the injury with white blood cells rushing to the site. This is evidenced in the red, tender, puffiness of inflammation of the gums.

Any time periodontal bacteria have the opportunity to enter the blood stream, such as when gum tissue is inflamed, the bacteria will. This means that the bad bacteria in your mouth are circulating to distant organs where they contribute to inflammatory diseases such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease, to name just a few.

Smoking makes it difficult to successfully treat periodontal disease, as it keeps coming back. I ask teens if they want to live a long and socially happy life.

If they do, they need to never start smoking or to stop! Chronic periodontal disease leads to tooth loss, gaps in the smile, and expensive dental restoration with prosthetic teeth on dental implants or removable bridges and dentures. It ages the mouth fast!

Smokers are a higher risk of developing throat, lung and oral cancers.

Smokers have unattractive teeth due to more dental plaque and smoke staining. They have bad breath. Sometimes they have a discolored and “hairy” tongue.

Smoking & Bad Nutrition

And, here’s one more thing teens need to know. Certain foods and beverages, such as the sugary snacks, sodas and coffee drinks they love, only make things worse by also contributing to enamel breakdown, dental decay and gum disease. The mouth and body are stressed enough by these poor nutritional choices. Smoking only compounds oral health problems and means more trips to the dentist for more frequent teeth cleaning, dental fillings and other restorations, cosmetic repair, and the treatment of infection in their mouths—most notably, periodontitis (gum disease).

My job as a doctor is to help you achieve health and maintain it. If you or your teen wants to recover from smoking addiction and have a restored beautiful smile, give me a call. I’d love to help you achieve this.