How Does Smoking Affect Your Oral Health?
13 May 2022
By far and large, warnings with regards to the health effects of smoking do not fall short and to add on, a smoker’s teeth and gums are not spared from the consequences of smoking either. With World No Tobacco Day commemorated on 31 May 2022, we bring to light the serious effects of smoking towards your oral health.
From smoker’s teeth, gum diseases to tooth loss and cancer, read on to learn about how smoking can impact the health of your mouth and more importantly, the steps smokers should take to care for their oral health.
The unpleasant effects of smoking
Did you know?
Smokers of any form of tobacco product such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe and some types of vape, have a higher risk of developing dental conditions.
However, it should be set straight that it is not smoking that causes direct damage to your teeth. Instead, dental issues among smokers arise due to a change in the mouth’s environment such as dryness and the presence of bacteria that contributes to the development of dental conditions. They include:
#1 Bad breath
Medically known as halitosis or in a layman’s term, ‘bad breath’ or ‘smoker’s breath’, smokers tend to have an unpleasant breath and this can be contributed by several factors.
The stale and unpleasant scent emitted from a smoker’s mouth can be caused by smoke lingering in the throat and lungs. If you’re sensitive to the scent of cigarettes, it is likely that you will detect it almost immediately especially when you’re in a conversation with someone who just had a cigarette.
The combination of chemicals from tobacco products and saliva can also cause an unpleasant breath as well as negatively impacts saliva production in the mouth. This causes dry mouth and gives room for bacteria to thrive.
#2 Smoker’s teeth
There is a high likelihood that a smoker will have a darker yellowish tint to his or her teeth as compared to a person who does not smoke.
That’s because nicotine and tar can cause long-term discolouration and staining to the teeth and fillings. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t take long for staining to occur and if the habit persists, the colour of the teeth can turn even darker.
#3 Tongue discolouration
Besides your teeth, the use of tobacco products can also cause tongue discolouration. The discolouration, which happens on the surface of the tongue, can range from yellow, brown to black. This is caused by the overgrowth of the tongue papilla, the tiny bumps on the surface of your tongue.
Black discolouration is especially seen among heavy smokers who have poor dental hygiene.
#4 Tooth decay
Now, you may question, “What’s new? After all, tooth decay happens to just about everyone. So, how is it any different?”
Well, here’s the difference. There is no doubt that in a healthy individual, the buildup of tartar and plaque does happen and this is why regular dental visits are important.
However, smoking adds to the buildup of tartar, plaque and bacteria in a person’s mouth, causing cavities, tooth decay and possibly tooth loss too. Plus, large cavities along the gum line can cause an infection and weaken the tooth, increasing the risk of breaking one’s teeth.
#5 Periodontal disease
Known as gum disease, periodontal disease happens due to a bacterial infection in the gums. What smoking does is that it weakens your body’s immune system and this makes it more difficult for your body to fight off bad bacteria. Hence, making it more susceptible to infections, including periodontal disease.
Smoking also affects the oxygen level in your bloodstream as it decreases your lung capacity and this makes it more difficult for infected gums to heal. On this note, if you undergo a dental surgery such as wisdom tooth surgery, smoking can increase the risk of infection and delay post-surgery healing time.
Tooth loss can happen too. A 2019 study found that smokers are more likely to lose their teeth as compared to non-smokers due to an increased risk of periodontitis (a severe form of gum infection).
#6 Oral thrush and mouth sores
Smoking is known to cause changes in the mouth environment and encourage bad bacteria and fungus to thrive. This is due to the smoke from smoking tobacco products as well as possibly a weaker immune system.
Oral thrush is one concern whereby a fungus known as candida accumulates along the lining of your mouth. Truth to be told, the presence of this fungus in your mouth is nothing out of the ordinary and is rarely a problem in individuals with a healthy immune system.
Another oral health concern is tobacco stomatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin in your mouth, lips and cheeks (known as the mucous membrane). The harmful chemicals in tobacco irritate the mucous membranes and this causes mouth sores to form.
#7 Oral cancer
Oral cancer or mouth cancer, is defined as a tumour growing in an area of the mouth such as the tongue, cheeks, palate, lips and gums.
Tobacco products contain toxins and carcinogens (chemicals that are known to cause cancer) and therefore, smoking will no doubt increase one’s risk of developing cancer.
Individuals who smoke tobacco products are at an increased risk of developing oral cancer by 10 folds as compared to a non-smoker!
How can a smoker protect his or her gums and teeth?
As you know by now, smokers will need to take good care of their oral health as smoking no doubt, contributes to the development of various dental concerns. Besides the usual brush, floss and rinse with a mouth wash twice daily, here are some other steps to take:
- Brush immediately after smoking: Brushing your teeth immediately after smoking can help with a smoker’s breath. It also helps to reduce the effects of nicotine and tar on your teeth such as staining.
- Rinse after a puff: If you’re not able to brush, rinsing your mouth after smoking may help to reduce the effects of teeth staining.
- Clean your tongue: Besides your teeth, it’s important not to forget about your tongue. A clean tongue improves your sense of taste, reduces bad breath and gives you a fresh feeling in your mouth. To clean your tongue, you may use a toothbrush or a tool known as a tongue scraper.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking water regularly can help to prevent dry mouth due to smoking as well as to cleanse your mouth each time you take a gulp. This helps to reduce the risk of various dental concerns including smoker’s breath and tooth decay.
- Whiten your teeth with a dental professional: If you’re hoping to brighten your smile, the best person to discuss your teeth whitening options with would be your dentist. To give you an overview, here are some of your teeth whitening options available in Singapore.
- Regular visits to the dentist: Do make it a point to follow through with your scheduled dentist appointments as an effort to maintain your oral health. Your dentist has the tools to clean your mouth thoroughly, be on the lookout for any dental concerns and address them.
- Consider dental products for smokers: Dental care products marketed specifically for smokers may contain ingredients that can help to combat the effects of smoking. For example, toothpaste for smokers has a stronger mint flavouring that helps to give a fresher breath. Also, it might be more abrasive than ordinary toothpaste.
Need help and advice on how to manage your oral health? Visit i.Dental for your routine dental examination to make sure that your mouth is healthy. Our dentists will be able to identify other dental concerns that you might be unaware of and guide you towards a healthier and happier smile.