How Does Smoking Damage Your Teeth and Gums?

Smoking tobacco is an addiction which causes both physical and psychological dependency. Smoking affects every part of the human body, and your mouth is particularly at risk. A smokers teeth are instantly recognizable due to the adverse effects of the tobacco.

Smoking and teeth: not a healthy combination!

 

The hundreds of cytotoxic chemicals that are released during smoking affect both the functionality and immunity of the body.  The mouth is one of the organs that gets negatively impacted by prolonged smoking . Some of the effects of smoking on your teeth and gums are:

  • Gum diseases
  • Bad breath
  • Oral cancer
  • Tooth and denture stains
  • Abrasion of the teeth
  • Hairy tongue
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Implants are more likely to fail
"Image of a smokers teeth, effects of smoking on the mouth"

Smoking and teeth: Staining, gum disease and tooth loss are the main effects seen here.

We will now discuss these effects of smoking on your teeth and mouth further:

 

Smoking and Gum Diseases

Smoking tobacco is one of the risk factors in developing gum diseases: inflammation and infection of the gums and bones that hold the teeth in position. Some of the major harmful side effects of smoking are:

  • Gingivitis- Studies have found that redness of the gingiva  and edema of the gums are severe in smokers when compared to non-smokers with similar oral hygiene. The nicotine content of the cigarette causes narrowing of the blood vessels causing decreased blood supply to the gums. Furthermore, the reduced immune response caused by smoking delays the body response to toxic oral microbes, i.e. the bacteria present in plaque can do more harm!
  • Periodontitis- This is a progression that can occur from gingivitis.  Periodontal disease implies irreversible destruction of the gum and bone around teeth.  Smokers are more at risk of this type of damage.  The periodontal damage can also occur faster for smokers and the response to dental treatment is usually not as good as for non-smokers. Smokers demonstrate more calculus when compared to non smokers. Calculus causes recession of the gingiva, periodontal pockets and alveolar bone loss.  This in turn causes tooth mobility and loss of teeth.
  • ANUG (Acute necrotizing  ulcerative gingivitis)- People who smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day are more prone to ANUG than non smokers. Smoking causes reduced blood flow and reduced immunity of the gum tissues.  This, along with poor oral hygiene, allows the bacteria to invade the gums, causing the painful ulcerative gum disease, ANUG.

 

Smoking and bad breath

Smoking causes unpleasant mouth odor, i.e. bad breath or halitosis. Bad breath is usually caused by the breakdown of protein in the mouth by bacteria. However in smokers, halitosis is mainly caused  by the retention and exhalation of the inhaled smoke. Pipe and cigar smokers are more prone to halitosis than cigarette smokers as the former contain more sulfur.

 

Smoking and oral cancer

Smoking tobacco releases toxins, irritants and carcinogenic chemicals into the mouth which alters the mucosal lining of the oral tissues. These alterations of the mucosal barrier along with drying of the mucosa, increased intra oral temperature, altered pH and reduced immunity cause oral cancer in smokers.  Studies show that smokers are 6 times more at risk of developing oral cancer than non smokers.  Alcohol abuse along with smoking will increase the risk of mouth cancer even further.

 

Smoking and teeth stains

Smoking tobacco leaves black or brown stains on the surface of the teeth. The stains usually deposit on the neck area of the teeth.  The severity of the stain also depends on the amount of calculus present on the smokers teeth and the frequency of smoking.  Smoking stains on a denture are more difficult to clean, as the stain gets embedded in the plastic material of the denture. This is especially true with people who have bad oral hygiene.

 

Smoking and tooth-wear

Holding a pipe or cigar in the same place while smoking can cause abrasion: wearing down of the smokers teeth.  This can cause sensitivity of the tooth as well as an unsightly notched appearance.  Furthermore, some smokers tend to over-brush their teeth in the hope of removing stains.  This over-brushing over a period of years can lead to severe abrasion of the teeth.

                                                   

Smoking and hairy tongue

Full view of black hairy tongue

No, it isn’t pretty…

Tobacco smoking prevents the normal shedding of the epithelial cells from the tongue. This makes the filiform papillae more elongated and gives a look of hairs on the tongue and thus the name “hairy tongue“.

 

Smoking and delayed wound healing

Smoking adversely affects the wound healing in the mouth.  Do not smoke after having dental surgery, including tooth extractions.  You are more at risk of getting a painful ‘dry socket’ if you do (more on that here).

The delayed wound healing can be attributed to reduced blood supply, caused by nicotine and dryness of the mouth. The negative pressure inside the mouth caused by smoking also results in dis-lodgement of the clot resulting in dry socket and thus delaying the wound healing.

Tied in with delayed wound healing, smoking will also affect dental implants.  Implants in a smokers mouth will not integrate as well with the jaw bone.  The implants are also more at risk of failing due to gum and bone disease (‘peri-implantitis’) around the implant.

 

Summary

You will know just from looking at a smokers teeth that tobacco is bad for the mouth.  But not only does smoking affect the appearance of the teeth, it can have much more serious consequences to the teeth (through severe gum disease) and your general health… Smoking will greatly increase your chances of developing mouth cancer.

Smoking and teeth“: not a good combination.  Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your oral health!

 

Go here for more advice on looking after your teeth.  You may want to go here for more information on what can happen if you don’t look after your teeth.

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