We are used to seeing national ad campaigns to get people to quit smoking. The UK a few years ago had a campaign which focused on the unpleasant effects of smoking on various parts of the body. But few were as hard-hitting as an Australian set of films in 2013 which zoomed in on the mouths of smokers and showed in excruciating detail the destruction of lips and teeth.
What Has Tobacco to Do with Dentists?
Dentists are in the forefront of practitioners when it comes to recognizing and diagnosing health problems. Most people will visit their dentist far more often than their doctor for routine check-ups. Although we normally associate dentists with teeth, they are actually experts in all aspects of mouth health, and will spot things going on with our lips, gums, and all the other oral tissues. They will then be at the forefront of dealing with the problems that arise. A lot of those problems are caused by tobacco.
If you are a smoker, or you think it is time for a check-up or have worries about your mouth, it is a good idea to contact a local community dentist. If you live in the East Indianapolis area you could see EastIndyDentalCare.com for advice and help.
What Does Tobacco Do to Our Mouths?
We are all well aware that tobacco is one of the main causes of cancer. About 80% of sufferers from oral cancer are users of tobacco. Pipe cigar smokers and others who do not inhale are equally at risk. Cancer can affect any tissue of the mouth, including the lips, tongue and throat, and the symptoms are always deeply distressing.
It’s Not Just About Cancer
Tobacco does not cause cancer directly. It does it indirectly by interfering with the way our body cells function. Cancer is the most dramatic and frightening result of that interference, but there are many other possible effects. We know that smoking affects the heart and the main blood vessels, but it also restricts the flow of blood in the small capillaries, including those in the mouth, so that the blood cannot do its normal repair work effectively. This effect on the blood supply, as well as the direct effect of tobacco on the cells of the mouth, can have the following results:
- Gum disease. Smokers have about three times the risk of developing gum disease, compared to non-smokers. The tobacco affects the ability of our immune system to fight the bacteria that accumulate in plaque. These bacteria then attack the gums, the teeth and the supporting bone structure. As a result, gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss.
- Smoker’s palate. The salivary glands in the roof of the mouth become inflamed, along with a whitening of the palate itself. Healthy saliva plays an important role in maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
- Poor response to treatment. Smokers, compared to non-smokers, are more likely to lose teeth, recover more slowly following surgery or extractions, and have a much higher failure rate of dental implants.
Is That All?
There are a number of conditions which are not dangerous in themselves, but unpleasant for the sufferer and those around them:
- Fungal infections can result in oral thrush, a nasty condition which can occasionally be serious.
- Smokers are more likely to suffer from bad breath and stained teeth. They can also develop brown spots inside the mouth (smoker’s melanosis), or white patches (leukoplakia).
- The tongue can become coated with a layer of compacted particles and debris, or with tiny hair-like structures called papillae, which are then stained by the tobacco.
Is There Any Good News?
The good news is that quitting smoking immediately begins to improve the odds in favor of a healthy mouth. Eleven years after quitting, former smokers appear to have reduced their risk of gum disease to the same level as those who have never smoked.
What is more, even those who cannot quit can significantly improve their oral health by cutting down on their consumption of tobacco.
No Time Like the Present
Nobody pretends that quitting the nicotine habit is easy. Gums and nicotine patches can help (but research has not yet established whether e-cigarettes are better for your oral health).
Don’t forget that your dentist is well placed to help you with advice and expertise. Your dentist will have helped many others before you, and may be able to help with prescriptions that will help the cravings.
Whatever your mouth issues, your local dentist is your first call.
Archie Carpenter is a dental hygienist who wants to help his patients help themselves rather than nag them. He writes informed articles about dental hygiene which appear on a range of health and lifestyle blogs.