While the number of people who smoke in the United States has been dropping in recent years, slightly more than 18 percent of adults are currently smoking cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That percentage jumps even higher when all forms of tobacco are included. Tobacco and the other harmful chemicals and products added to cigarettes can wreak havoc on your entire body — around 480,000 U.S. deaths are attributed to smoking every year — including your teeth. Read on to find out exactly how tobacco use affects oral health.
Types of Tobacco Products
All types of tobacco use affects oral health, but certain types carry specific risks.
- Cigarettes: These are the most common way tobacco is consumed in the United States. Cigarettes come in filtered and unfiltered varieties, and the unfilitered may pose additional health risks.
- Cigars: Longer and thicker than cigarettes, cigars carry health risks that are very similar to those of unfiltered cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes: These have become more popular in recent years, with some believing they can supply smokers the nicotine they need for their addictions without the health risks. Vaporizers use liquid nicotine that also contains other substances that may pose health risks.
- Chew and snuff: Loose tobacoo products do not affect the lungs in the same way that smoking does, but these products are associated with an increased risk of mouth cancer and gum problems.
Effects of Tobacco on Oral Health
Tobacco use has been linked to a whole host of diseases and medical conditions, including lung cancer, COPD, cataracts and heart disease, and it can also have profound affects on your oral health.
Smoking discolors your teeth, increases your chances of oral cancers and gum disease, and can complicate healing and lengthen recovery times after dental work. Tobacco use also affects your sense of taste and smell.
Smokeless tobacco may seem like a healthier alternative to smoking, but it contains the same addictive substances and many of the same chemicals that cigarettes do. Those who use smokeless tobacco products are at increased risk of cancers in the oral cavities and are four times more likely to experience issues related to tooth decay.
Benefits of Quitting
The CDC reports over two-thirds of adult smokers wish they could stop, and quitting tobacco can greatly improve your health in the long and short term.
Within minutes of quitting, smokers experience a drop in both blood pressure and heart rate, and after two weeks, both pulmonary and heart function improve. Once you have been tobacco free for 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease is comparable to that of a nonsmoker, and it only takes 5 years to cut your risk of oral cancers in half.
It’s common for smokers to turn to suckers, gum or other sugary candies to satisfy the habit of having something in their mouths when they quit, and this can lead to increased tooth decay and cavities. Talk to your dentist about sugar-free options and make sure to keep up with brushing and flossing as you adapt to your new lifestyle.