For years, quitting smoking has been on the Top 10 list of New Year’s resolutions that people make with great intentions, then break shortly thereafter. If you need a few more reasons to add quitting to your to-do list for 2015, consider the impact smoking can have on your mouth and teeth, says dental expert Dr. Sangeeta Gajendra.
It’s widely accepted that smoking is bad for health and that it harms most of the body’s organs. Smoking is linked to heart disease, lung cancer, dementia, impotence, and skin damage.
Cigarette smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, including tar, which sticks to the lungs. Some of these chemicals are cancer-causing, such as benzene, which is also found in gasoline. It has poisonous gases, such as carbon monoxide, found in car exhausts; hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; and ammonia, used in household cleaners.
Adding to its damaging consequences, smoking is also harmful to your oral health.
The most significant effects of tobacco use on the oral cavity are oral cancers and pre-cancers. In any form, tobacco use can cause oral cancer. In fact, it accounts for more than 90 percent of oral cancers. And heavy alcohol drinkers who smoke have 38 times the risk of oral cancer, compared to non-smokers who do not drink.
Other facts to consider:
- Smoking produces a strong bad breath that is related to the strength of tobacco smoked.
- Smokers have a higher level of plaque and tartar on their teeth that can cause gum disease and cavities.
- Smokers have a 5- to 10-fold increased risk for gum disease, which can become more severe as the number of cigarettes smoked increases.
- Smoking has an adverse effect on healing. After your teeth are pulled or you undergo oral surgery, you should avoid smoking for at least three days. Otherwise, you may end up with a very painful condition called “dry socket.”
- Smoking and chewing tobacco can have a dramatically negative impact on your appearance. Stains and discolorations of teeth, dentures, and fillings are commonly seen in smokers.
The evidence against smoking and tobacco is overwhelming. Any amount of smoking, even light or occasional smoking, harms your body. Although it’s difficult for many smokers, quitting is possible. When you quit, you take an important step towards a healthier life—one that can lead to reduced cancer risk and an improved quality of life.
Get Help Quitting
- New York State Smokers’ Quitline is a free and confidential program that provides services to people who want to stop cigarette smoking or other forms of tobacco.
- Your health plan may cover quit-smoking medications, and may even have free programs to help you quit. Call your health insurer to find out more.
- Ask your doctor or dentist about nicotine replacement therapy, or medications like Zyban and Chantix that will help you quit.
Sangeeta Gajendra, DDS, MPH, is clinical chief in Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s Community Dentistry and Oral Disease Prevention Department. She has a strong interest in dental research, particularly smoking cessation.