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The Mountaineer Online

Is smoking really that bad for my oral health?

Capt. Michael Silva

General Dentist, Stone Dental Clinic

Smoking and other tobacco products can lead to gum disease by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. More specifically, it appears that smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells. This interference makes smokers more susceptible to infections, such as periodontal disease, and it seems to impair blood flow to the gums, which may affect wound healing.
Some common dental problems associated with smoking are halitosis (bad breath), tooth discoloration, inflammation (swelling) of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth, increased buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth, increased loss of bone within the jaw, increased risk of leukoplakia (white patches inside the mouth), increased risk of developing gum disease resulting in tooth loss, delayed healing following dental and medical procedures, lower success rate of dental implant procedures, and increased risk of developing oral cancer.
Yet this issue is not only limited to cigarette smoking. Like cigarettes, pipes and cigars do lead to oral health problems.
According to the results of study conducted over a 20-year timeframe, cigar smokers experience tooth and bone loss in the jaws at rates equivalent to those of cigarette smokers. Pipe smokers also have a similar risk of tooth loss as cigarette smokers. Beyond these risks, pipe and cigar smokers are still at risk for oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers – even if they don't inhale – and other oral consequences.
Furthermore, smokeless tobacco products are no safer. Like cigars and cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products (for example, snuff and chewing tobacco) contain at least 28 chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer and cancer of the throat and esophagus. In fact, chewing tobacco contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, making it harder to quit than cigarettes. And one can of snuff delivers more nicotine than over 60 cigarettes!
Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing it to recede or pull away from your teeth. Once the gum tissue recedes, your teeth roots become exposed, creating an increased risk of tooth decay. Exposed roots also are more sensitive to hot and cold or other irritants, making eating and drinking uncomfortable. In addition, sugars, which are often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, can increase your risk for tooth decay. Finally, smokeless tobacco typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down your teeth.
There are both long- and short-term benefits to quitting smoking, some within less than 30 minutes.
Twenty minutes after stopping tobacco use, your blood pressure, pulse rate and the temperature of your hands and feet have returned to normal.
Within days after quitting, your blood oxygen level will have increased to normal and carbon monoxide levels will have dropped to normal.
Also, anxieties have peaked in intensity and within two weeks should return to near precessation levels. Your damaged nerve endings have started to regrow, and your sense of smell and taste are beginning to return to normal.
By a few weeks, recovery has likely progressed to the point where your addiction is no longer doing the talking. Your blood circulation in your gums and teeth is now similar to that of a nonuser. More significantly, your heart attack risk has started to drop, your blood circulation is significantly better, and your lung function is beginning to improve. Generally, if you suffer from a chronic cough, it has disappeared as well.
At the end of one year of not using tobacco, the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has dropped to less than half that of a smoker. By five years, your risk of a stroke has been decreased by nearly 60 percent. If you are a female ex-tobacco user, your risk of developing diabetes is now that of a nonsmoker.
At 10 years, your risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer is between 30 and 50 percent of that for a continuing tobacco user. Risk of death from lung cancer has declined by almost half if you were an average smoker (one pack per day). Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and pancreas has declined. Risk of developing diabetes for men is now similar to that of someone who never smoked.
Finally, at 15 years of no tobacco use, your risk of coronary heart disease and pancreatic cancer has declined to that of a person who never smoked.
With all of this information, it is clear that tobacco use limits your quality of life and can rob you of years you otherwise would have shared with loved ones.
Although quitting can be tough, remember you are not alone. There are a number of ways to become tobacco-free that range from support groups to using medications.
The Fort Drum DENTAC and MEDDAC can help you in your journey to quit and, in the process, better your life.

The Mountaineer



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