It is not a secret that smoking tobacco is not good for your overall health, but using tobacco products can have grave consequences to your oral health as well. These issues range from stained teeth to oral cancer.
Thomas Kilgore, DMD, is a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and is the associate dean at Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.
Dr. Kilgore says you can get yellow teeth and a yellow stained tongue from smoking.
Smoking Leads to Oral Cancer
Dr. Kilgore says “The most serious issue is mouth cancer. It’s hard to say what percentage of people who smoke will get mouth cancer, but the death rate of those who do get it is high — between 40 and 50 percent of all cases, and that hasn’t changed over the last few decades.”
It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that 90% of those who get oral cancer have used some form of tobacco. The risk of getting oral cancer is 600% higher with smokers as compared to non-smokers. The longer you use tobacco, the higher your risk for oral cancer. Oral cancer includes cancer affecting the throat, mouth, lips, and tongue.
Periodontal Disease and Smoking
“Smoking cigarettes doesn’t cause dental decay, but it does cause periodontal, or gum, disease,” according to Dr. Kilgore. “Bone loss is part of periodontal disease. It starts out as inflammation of the gums. In the natural and unfortunate progression, the bone supporting the roots of your teeth becomes inflamed, and then the underlying bone can deteriorate.”
There are therapies, both nonsurgical and surgical, that can be used to slow or reverse advancement of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, gum disease does eventually lead to tooth loss and jawbone damage, if proper treatment is not done. 50% or more of periodontal disease cases found that smoking was the cause, according to one study.
No Type of Tobacco is Safe
It is often thought that different types of tobacco products are "safer" than others. But “tobacco in any form has risks. It’s hard to figure out which is worse, chewed, smoked, or inhaled” says Dr. Kilgore. All of them have issues.
You can see that consistent exposure to any type of tobacco can have negative effects on your health. “Pipe smokers may not smoke very often, but they can get cancer of the lips, as they’re always holding the pipe in the same place on the lip. There is also a myth that chewing tobacco has less risk, but it’s been shown pretty clearly that this isn’t true.” says Dr. Kilgore.
People using chewing tobacco are 4 to 6 time greater in risk of getting oral cancer than those who do not use tobacco at all. In addition, tooth decay and cavities are a problem for those who chew tobacco because some varieties of smokeless tobacco contain sugar for better taste. Sugar is a primary cause of cavities.
Here are some of the things you can do to ensure great health of your teeth and gums.
Properly Brush Your Teeth
Dr. Kilgore says that “Most people who have periodontal disease develop it from not brushing and flossing properly.”
Those who use tobacco products need to be especially careful to brush and floss well. The heat and carcinogens from cigarettes will damage your mouth and gums.
Get Regular Checkups
Early detection of oral cancer can improve your outcome. The sooner treatment is started, the better your survival odds. According to Dr. Kilgore “The good news is that regular checkups by a dentist are a good way to catch oral cancer early. Any mouth ulcers can be checked out with a biopsy, and you can get a diagnosis.”
Your chance of oral health problems goes down significantly once you stop smoking. Your risk continues to decrease the longer you stay a non-smoker. After ten years, your risk will be at the same level as non-smokers. Dr. Kilgore says “A lot of dentists now are taking the initiative to ask patients about their smoking habits, and are talking about the [nicotine] patch.”
Need Help with Quitting Smoking?
Cutting back and over time quitting is the best thing you can do to improve both your oral health as well as your overall health.
Tobacco “is a tremendously addictive habit, so in the meantime, regular dental visits can help with early detection” of problems says Dr. Kilgore. By the time oral cancer is usually detected, it is usually very challenging to treat. Radiation treatments and especially surgery often disfigure your month and can affect your ability to eat and talk.
Consult with your dentist or internal medicine doctor about ways you can end your tobacco habit quickly.