Smoking and Oral Health

How can smoking affect my oral health?

The health risks of smoking are well publicised, including on the packaging of tobacco products. Problems associated with smoking include:

  • Smoking raises risk of lung and mouth cancer, and other associated health complications.
  • Smoking deteriorates oral health. The structures of the mouth including teeth, tongue, palate and gums become traumatised.
  • Teeth stains and discolouration is one side-effect of smoking, and risk of gum disease and tooth loss is substantially raised.
  • Thousands of people who smoke die from oral cancer, on a yearly basis.

Why are my teeth stained?

Tobacco products such as cigarettes contain tar and nicotine that cause yellow staining of the teeth. The teeth of people who have smoked for years may appear brown. The toxins within tobacco products discolour teeth and impact oral health.

How will smoking affect my gums and teeth?

Smoking affects teeth and gum health in a number of ways including:

  • Smoking restricts oxygen supply to gum tissue, degenerating gum condition and preventing mouth wounds from healing.
  • A yellow residue builds on the tongue and around the teeth attracting plaque and harmful bacteria.
  • Smokers are at higher risk therefore of tooth decay as the condition may progress much faster and develop into gum disease.
  • Tooth loss may result due to smoking, and the damage caused by smoking tobacco may lead to cancerous gum tissue.

How is smoking linked with cancer?

Cancer is runaway growth of abnormal cells that cause damage within the body. Any organ in the body may become cancerous due to free radicals, toxins, trauma or disease. Smoking contains toxins that cause cancer. While many people are aware of cancers affecting the colon, pancreas, liver, throat and lungs, some are unaware that mouth cancer may develop from smoking.

Are there special dental products I can use?

A range of dental products are available for smokers and tobacco users. These products range from:

  • Toothpastes
  • Mouthwashes
  • breath fresheners
  • Tongue cleaners
  • Specialist dental care.

Toothpastes for smokers may be more abrasive than alternate ones and contain ingredients to whiten teeth stained by smoking. Tongue cleaners may be used daily to remove the yellow coating on the tongue that forms due to continuous smoking.

What about mouthwashes?

The yellow coating that covers the tongue as a result of smoking attracts bacteria and causes bad breath. Mouthwashes for smokers are designed to reduce bacteria and refresh the breath. However, mouthwashes alone will not remove the yellow layer coating the tongue. A special tongue cleaner may be used to properly clean the tongue, reducing plaque and bacteria that may contribute to bad breath.

How often should I visit my dentist?

Dentists provide guidance to smokers about oral health and the importance of oral hygiene. Smokers usually require a more intensive oral hygiene regimen with more visits to the dentist for cleaning and cancer screening.

Regular six monthly dental check-ups are required and appointments for oral screening of diseases should be taken very seriously. A visit to the dental hygienist ever three to six months will help remove any tartar build-up and debris from hard-to-reach surfaces so that the mouth remains clean, lowering the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

What can my dentist do for me?

Dentists are on hand to examine oral health to determine the condition of all parts of the mouth including teeth, gums, tongue, palate, cheeks and lips. If a smoker wants to give up smoking, a dentist may sign-post a smoker to an organisation that may help them quit the habit.

If the dentist identifies any adverse signs, recommendation for treatment may be provided. Appointments may be scheduled with the dental hygienist and teeth stained from smoking may be whitened.

Will I need any extra treatment?

The treatment needed will depend on a person's oral condition and the dental assessment. Where treatment is required, recommendations will be provided. Smokers are more likely to experience a decline in oral health and may need treatment to prevent tooth decay, such as professional dental cleaning.

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