How Smoking Affects Your Mouth

You know smoking is bad for you.  You know it causes emphysema and lung cancer.  Did you know it is also really terrible for your oral health?  Smoking worsens your risk for every oral health problem.

Smoking Causes Dry Mouth

One of the ways smoking causes dry mouth is by physically drying out the tissues by breathing smoke in and out through the mouth.  It also affects the body’s ability to produce saliva.  Saliva is the best defense a human has against dental diseases like cavities and gum disease.  It fights bacteria and neutralizes acid.  It also lubricates the soft tissues inside the mouth.  Without it, we suffer from a higher risk for bacterial diseases, mouth sores, and soft tissue injuries.

Smoking Causes Bad Breath

A dry mouth is usually a stinky mouth.  In addition to the odor of the cigarette smoke itself, the overgrowth of bacteria allowed by a lack of saliva leads to more smelly gas compounds produced by those bacteria.  Smoker’s breath is impossible to cover with gum, mints or a quick mouthrinse.

Smoking Increases the Risk for Gum Disease

The dry mouth caused by smoking leads to an accumulation of plaque buildup (containing disease-causing bacteria) along the gumlines of the teeth.  In a normal, healthy individual, the body would respond to these bacteria and the toxins they produce with inflammation, so you would probably see gingivitis.  Gingivitis is redness, swelling, tenderness and bleeding of the gums.  The problem with smokers is that the nicotine causes a contraction of the tiniest blood vessels, including those in the gums, so often there is no visible evidence of the bacterial disease that is forming.

Obviously, this is dangerous because it allows people to develop a disease without knowing anything is wrong.  Gum disease usually progresses and worsens much faster in smokers and does not respond well to traditional treatments.

Smoking Increases the Risk for Cavities

The dry mouth also leads to a lower, more acidic pH inside the mouth.  The process of cavity development on a tooth involves destruction of tooth enamel by strong acids produced by the bacteria in plaque.  When plaque stays on a tooth, the acid slowly weakens and softens the enamel, allowing bacteria to penetrate the tooth, causing a cavity.

A healthy mouth is at a neutral, or even slightly basic, pH, so it is capable of counteracting these acidic attacks by bacteria.  A smoker’s mouth has a low pH, and that means it cannot neutralize those bacterial acids the way a non-smoker can.  This makes smokers more likely to get cavities.

Smoking Increases the Risk for Oral Cancer

About 75% of oral cancers are related to tobacco!  Tobacco use greatly increases your risk for oral cancer.  There are various types of oral cancer, and the type caused by the carcinogens in tobacco is more aggressive and difficult to treat than others.

Someone dies from oral cancer about once every hour.

The risk for oral cancer goes up the longer you use tobacco, so quitting TODAY will instantly lower your risk!  The other risks associated with smoking are bad for your oral health, and they should be taken very seriously.  However, this risk is literally life and death, and by itself, is reason alone to stop smoking!

Interested in Quitting?

There are countless tools available to help you stop smoking.  Talk to Dr. Chowning, your dental hygienist, your medical doctor, or even a counselor, and get started on a tobacco cessation program today.  It could save your life!

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