The Specialist

Smoking does more damage to your oral health than you think

Tobacco smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of death. Smoking adversely affects your healing potential and makes you more susceptible to serious illness. Most people are aware that smoking is bad for their health. It can cause many different medical problems and, in some cases, fatal diseases. However, many people do not realize the damage that smoking does to their mouth, gums and teeth.

In this column, I will address how smoking damages your oral tissues and reduces your quality of life.

Smoking damages your dental health causing gum disease, cavities and even oral cancer. In essence, smoking does more damage to your health than you may think.

As dentists, we have an ethical, moral and professional obligation to help patients who are interested to stop smoking. Due to the nature of our work and regular contact with patients, the dentist is in an ideal position to advise patients about the ill effects of smoking. Dentists have the necessary skills, competence and expertise to recognize and treat oral diseases associated with smoking and can advise patients about harmful effects of smoking and the benefits of exercising good practices. Since cigarette smoking can affect nearly every organ in your body, your oral health is also significantly impacted.

The bad effects of tobacco smoking on oral health is well-documented. Smoking results in many conditions, from benign tumors to life-threatening diseases. In your mouth, dentists often see severe staining of teeth and dental restorations, bad breath, bad taste and smell disorders. Also, even worse, there is poor wound healing, periodontal disease, implant failures, oral lesions and oral cancer.

Periodontal disease and cavities are the most common diseases in smokers. Smoking interferes with your immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight off conditions like gum infections. Periodontal treatment may not even have the same successful outcome for a smoker as it may for a non-smoker. Smoking also affects the gums, causing a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, so the infected gums do not heal well.

During an oral exam, there is usually less bleeding when probed. This gives the impression to the dentist and patient that all is well. This is, of course, until you take the necessary x-rays and look a little closer. In many cases, the underlying damage to the gums and bone is more significant than initially appeared. This means, dentists should be more vigilant when examining and treating tobacco smokers. Since smoking also causes a greater collection of dental plaque and calculus, it causes gum disease to advance more aggressively. Gum disease is still the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.

Also, cavities are more rampant in smokers. Smoking causes a drying of the mouth, creating an optimal site for early cavity formation.

Oral cancer involves the change of healthy cells in your mouth to cancer cells which may occur in a number of ways. Smoking plays a significant role in many cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year. Studies show that eight out of 10 patients with oral cancer were smokers. Whenever you inhale, the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke first pass through your mouth and throat before reaching your lungs. Through time and repeat exposure, these chemicals cause changes to your oral cavity, which can lead to oral cancer. Be also aware that e-cigarette aerosols also contain harmful substances.

By avoiding smoking behaviors and seeing a dentist regularly for routine checkups, you can remain oral cancer-free and prevent other dental conditions.

Talk to your dental professional about your desire to stop. As you develop a course of action to help you quit smoking, keeping your mouth and teeth as clean as possible is encouragement to move toward good overall health. Brushing often with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, helps to prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease.

It is important that you visit your dental provider regularly for a check-up and for a full mouth examination, so that any disease can be picked up in the earliest stages.

Now that you know the dangers of smoking and how it affects oral health, and the critical importance of prevention, it’s never too late to start the journey toward better health and wellness. You are worth it!

• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or kmajorcsd@gmail.com.

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