During his exploration of the Americas, Christopher Columbus encountered a native in a canoe loaded with water, food and a strange bunching of leaves. This marked the first European encounter with tobacco, a discovery that still haunts us to the present day. Today, millions smoke tobacco—and many suffer serious health problems as a result, including dental diseases like tooth decay and gum disease.
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring its 44th annual Great American Smokeout this November 19 when health providers across the country encourage smokers to kick the tobacco habit. Dentists will certainly be among them: Studies show that smokers are five times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers due to a higher incidence of dental disease. Here's why.
Increased plaque and tartar. The main cause for tooth decay and gum disease is dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, can keep plaque and its hardened form tartar from accumulating. But substances in tobacco restrict the flow of saliva needed to curb bacterial growth. This in turn can increase plaque accumulation and the risk for disease.
Hidden symptoms. Your gums often “tell” you when you have early gum disease by becoming swollen and red, and bleeding easily. But if you smoke, you might not get that early warning—the nicotine in tobacco interferes with your body's inflammatory response, so your gums, although infected, may look normal. By the time you find out, the infection may have already spread, increasing your chances of tooth loss.
Slow healing. Nicotine can also constrict the mouth's blood vessels, slowing the delivery of nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies to your teeth and gums. As a result, your body may have a harder time fighting tooth decay or gum disease, and diseased tissues can take longer to heal. Slower healing can also complicate the process of getting dental implants.
Increased oral cancer risk. Although it's not as prevalent as other cancers, oral cancer is still among the deadliest with a dismal 50% survival rate after five years. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer. But by quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco, you could reduce your oral cancer risk to that of a non-user in just a few years.
Kicking the smoking habit often takes a monumental effort, but it's worth it. Quitting not only improves your overall well-being, it could help you gain healthier teeth and gums. To learn how, see us for an up-to-date dental exam—we can show you how getting Columbus's most notorious discovery out of your life could do wonders for your smile and dental health.
If you would like more information about the effects of tobacco on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”