According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 36 million smokers in the United States—around 15% of the population. While the number has declined in recent years, the risks associated with smoking are not to be taken lightly. One common but often overlooked risk? Tooth and mouth issues. Tobacco hurts the teeth in many ways, and cigarettes can limit the mouth’s ability to fight off infection, which will leave you defenseless against bacteria produced by smoking. The increase in plaque and bacteria will cause a wide range of oral health issues. See below for the five most common.
Tooth discoloration. Yellowed or stained teeth are some of the most obvious signs of a smoker. The chemicals in tobacco cling to tooth enamel, which cause them to stain over time. Teeth whitening treatments can slow the process, but if an individual continues to smoke, it can become impossible to stop or reverse it.
Bad breath. Cigarette particles remain in the mouth long after a cigarette is finished, which will cause breath to take on the characteristics of a cigarette. Beyond that, long-term effects of smoking can also contribute to bad breath. The overgrowth of bacteria in a smoker’s mouth will cause bad smells, and most brushing and mouthwash will not be able to help. The only way to reverse or halt the damage is to stop smoking entirely and work with a dentist.
Gum disease. According to the CDC, smokers are twice as prone to gum disease as nonsmokers. The risk increases with every cigarette smoked and gum disease treatments do not work efficiently on smokers. Cigarettes decrease the mouth’s ability to fight off bacteria, which will allow it to build up on the teeth and gums. If left untreated, gums can pull away from teeth and cause the underlying bone structures to weaken.
Delayed healing. Smoking both increases the risk of tooth extraction and oral surgery and slows the body’s ability to recover from these procedures. It will also lower the rate of successful dental implant procedures. The more time your mouth spends in a vulnerable state, such as after a surgery or implant, the more prone you are to developing further complications.
Oral cancer. Oral cancer is the most severe form of smoking-related mouth issues. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, around 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year. An estimated 80% of those diagnoses come from smokers. The risk of developing oral cancer increases when smoking is combined with heavy drinking.