Dentists are in a unique position to help motivate their patients to quit smoking. Quitting smoking now will reduce the risk of numerous oral complications – even forms of oral amputation.
Most everyone knows that smoking is detrimental for health. From lung cancer to heart disease to emphysema – smoking is bad news for those who want to live a long and productive life. But what smokers may not know, is that lighting up isn’t just harmful for overall health and wellbeing.
It also plays havoc on the teeth and gums. Dentists should always remember to warn their patients about the potential threats of smoking and oral healthcare.
Tobacco’s Effects on Teeth
Smoking of tobacco products is a major player when it comes to gum disease. Those who smoke are much more likely to have minor gum disease, severe gum disease, or periodontitis. This is partly because smoking inhibits the body’s ability to fight off infection. When gum disease begins, the immune system may not be able to fend it off, resulting in more severe infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who smoke are also less likely to respond to traditional gum disease treatments.
Tobacco products also lead to unsightly issues like yellowed and brown teeth. This isn’t inherently dangerous to health by itself, but it can cause embarrassment when smiling and otherwise hinder one’s self-esteem. Bad breath is also a common problem for those who smoke cigarettes, as the constant inhalation of tobacco smoke can negatively impact breath. While mints and other aids may help to some degree between cigarettes, most smokers have a near constant issue with bad breath. Bad breath is also not dangerous, but it can be an embarrassment and cause social issues when dealing with others.
Potential oral health issues related to smoking may include:
White patches in the mouth
Discoloration of the teeth
Inflammation of the salivary glands
According to WebMD, smoking may also lead to delayed healing after periodontal-related treatments, such as tooth extractions and root canals.
Treatment for Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
Dental practitioners may find themselves in a position to help counsel their patients. Explaining to them that their oral complications are due to their smoking, and that this habit has led to the need for treatment, may help motivate them toward quitting. The treatments necessary for oral health problems will depend on the exact issues. Gum disease may be treated with medication and special mouth washes. More severe cases may require surgery. In very severe cases, teeth can fall out. Once tooth decay and gum disease have reached this point, dentures and other tooth replacements may be necessary. These treatments are often costly and some may also be painful.
Other Oral Health Issues Related to Tobacco
Prolonged exposure to tobacco products can lead to oral cancers in some individuals. This includes smokeless tobacco, such as chew tobacco. Throat cancers, mouth cancers, and others are all linked to tobacco use. In some cases, parts of the mouth, jaw or throat may have to be removed. In addition to hindering one’s ability to eat and speak normally, these amputations can cause many psychological and emotional issues.
Prevention of Smoking Related Oral Issues
Advising patients on the merits of brushing and flossing regularly are important for anyone – especially so for smokers. Plaque buildup and tartarare also causes of gum disease, so removing this risk factor may help offset some of the issues caused by the tobacco products. This will not completely alleviate risk, however. The only way to completely alleviate the risk oftobacco related oral diseases is to quit smoking. Patients should be explained thattop smoking aids are available to those who need them. These may include nicotine replacement therapies, prescription medications, and e-cigarettes.