Deteriorating oral health linked to smoking

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Patrice Lewis
  • 81st Dental Squadron
It should be no surprise that cigarettes and chewing tobacco are harmful to your oral health. Tobacco products can cause bad breath, but that's only the beginning.

Other effects of tobacco use include stained teeth and tongue, dulled sense of taste and smell, slow healing after a tooth extraction or other surgery, increased risk of tooth decay, difficulties in correcting cosmetic dental problems, gum disease and oral cancer.

There are three common bacteria involved in gum disease that are present in higher amounts in smokers than non-smokers. Although it's not known if there is a greater amount of bacteria in total, research indicates the type of bacteria in smokers is more likely to cause gum disease. This is due to more "bad" bacteria in the mouths of smokers.

Some past research reported that severe gum disease in smokers was caused by poor dental hygiene and was made worse by smoking. It is now known that smoking, when adjusted for poor dental hygiene, still causes more gum disease than for non-smokers.

There is also less inflammation and bleeding in smokers than in non-smokers due to a constriction in blood vessels in the gum tissue. This constriction does not simply go away once people stop smoking, but lasts for a while after smoking has stopped.   Less gum inflammation, an indicator often used by dentists to measure gum health, can lead to a false sense of security, leading smokers to believe their gums are healthy when they are actually damaged.   Smokers have much less gum bleeding and redness than other people, even though their mouths are not healthy. Smokers have 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of severe gum disease, which is recognized by the amount of bone lost due to gum disease. Smokers also tend to lose more teeth than non-smokers.

Oral cancer is particularly dangerous.   In its early stages, it may not be noticed by the patient because it can frequently prosper without producing pain or other symptoms. I  Patients who survive a first encounter with the disease have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing a second cancer. This heightened risk factor can last for  five to 10 years after the first occurrence.

Often oral cancer is only discovered when the cancer has spread to another location, most likely the lymph nodes of the neck. Prognosis at this stage of discovery is significantly worse than when it is caught in a localized oral area. Besides the metastasis at these later stages, the primary tumor has had time to invade deep into local structures.

Quitting tobacco use is the only way to decrease your risk of gum disease, oral cancer and other tobacco-related health problems. The addictive quality of nicotine found in cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco can make this especially difficult. That's why it's important to have a plan and a support network to help you stick to your plan.

Write down your reasons for quitting. Exercising, chewing sugarless gum and keeping yourself occupied can help you quit.

For more information on quitting and smoking cessation, contact Terri Jordan at the health and wellness center at Keesler Medical Center, 228-376-3170.