Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you; high school health class taught us that. And national campaigns like The Truth Initiative have national PSA campaigns not only to stop teens from becoming smokers, but to spread information and resources about quitting to adults who already do smoke. Decades of research and class action suits against Big Tobacco have shown that the long-term health risks for consuming tobacco in any way are numerous. Between lung cancers, heart disease, weakened immune systems and other damage to your internal organs, smoking really just isn’t worth it. And it doesn’t just effect your heart and lungs; it can have a devastating impact on the health of your mouth and jaw – whether through cavities, oral cancers, jaw deterioration or gum disease, among other things. It’s no wonder your dentist keeps telling you to quit.
How Smoking Affects Your Whole Mouth, Not Just Your Teeth
Many people think that the effects on the mouth from smoking regularly are limited to yellowed teeth and cavities. But it’s actually much worse than that. And by the way, vaping doesn’t get a pass here – there’s nicotine and heavy metals in that, too. So what are the other issues smoking might cause when it comes to your oral health? Here are just a few:
• Tooth decay severe enough to lose teeth or to need teeth extracted
• Gum/periodontal disease resulting from nicotine plaque buildup at the gum line
• A weakened immune system, which increases your risk of:
o Deterioration of the jaw bone
o Movement of the teeth
o Lowered rate of salivation
o Infection after an oral surgery like a tooth extraction or tooth replacement
If you allow the damage to your teeth and gums to become too severe before you decide to quit, a full mouth reconstruction may become almost impossible. Dental implants to replace teeth lost to decay require sturdy bone that I capable of growing around the dental implant’s root. And while dental bone grafting can help to some extent, damage from smoking can present two main issues that will preclude you from being able to get a dental bone graft: (1) the existing bone is too damaged for a graft and (2) the bone doesn’t have enough ability to use the graft to help itself regenerate. Imagine being 30 years old, having to have all your teeth extracted and your jaw stabilized through oral surgeries, for your only option to be a full set of dentures. Not cute.
On the Rebound: Quitting is a Great Choice No Matter How Long You’ve Smoked
Research has shown unequivocally that when people quit smoking, their overall health immediately starts to improve, and that includes their oral health. Your risk of tooth loss and tooth decay reduce dramatically, as does your risk of mouth diseases like necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, which is a particularly nasty gum disease that causes your gums to develop ulcers and gum tissue to die. One study found that of the people who quit smoking after the initial study, in less than one year they had significantly less symptoms of gum disease than the participants who hadn’t quit smoking. Another study showed that people who quit smoking have the same risk of gum disease as non-smokers. For context, smokers have an 80% higher chance of developing gum disease than people who don’t smoke. Quitting smoking also means your blood flow and immune system go back to normal, meaning bone loss and susceptibility to oral diseases, bone loss and infection lessen significantly.