The Damaging Impact of Smoking on Your Teeth

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Many people are aware of the general health dangers of smoking, but have you ever stopped to think how puffing on a cigarette affects your oral health?

Smoking and gum disease

Smoking is a known risk factor for gum disease. The chemicals in cigarettes reduce circulation and blood flow to the gums and they also affect the connection between bone tissue and the gums. Reduced blood flow increases healing time following treatment such as oral surgery and may increase the risk of treatment failure. It is believed that smoking impairs the normal function of cells in the gums, thus increasing susceptibility to infections like gum disease.

Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in UK adults. In the early stages, it is treatable, but if it is left, it causes irreversible damage to the gums and the bone tissue beneath. Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • bleeding gums (this is usually noticeable when you brush your teeth)
  • swollen and tender gums
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • bad breath
  • increased redness in the gums

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to see your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease early prevents complications and may make the difference between saving and losing a tooth. Studies have also shown that gum disease can increase the risk of heart disease and strokes, so giving up smoking and devoting time to caring for your teeth and gums could help to reduce your risk of suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

Smoking and oral cancer

Oral cancer has a low profile, but it is becoming increasingly common each year in the UK. Public awareness of the disease remains relatively low, despite the fact that the number of cases has increased by more than a third in the last ten years.

Smoking is one of the main risk factors for oral cancer. If you smoke, you are up to three times more likely to develop oral cancer than a non-smoker. If you smoke and drink, your risk may increase by around 30 times.

Signs of oral cancer include:

  • a lump or swelling in the mouth or throat
  • red or white patches in the mouth
  • persistent sore throat
  • oral pain
  • slow-healing sores or ulcers (see your dentist if you have an ulcer for more than 2 weeks)
  • difficulty swallowing

Dentists carry out routine oral cancer checks during general check-ups. However, if you notice any of the signs listed above, don’t hesitate to arrange an appointment. You can also book oral cancer screening sessions, which involve your dentist using an advanced camera to look for changes in the tissue, which may not yet be visible to the naked eye.

Smoking and bad breath

Bad breath is a common side-effect of smoking. You can chew gum or rinse with mouthwash after smoking, but you will probably still be able to taste the smoke. Dentists recommend regular hygiene sessions, which involve intensive cleaning treatment, for smokers.

Smoking and your smile

Many people consider their smile their most important physical characteristic. Smoking has devastating effects on the look of your smile, as it stains the teeth and makes them look unhealthy. Discoloured teeth can also make you look older and affect the way people perceive you when they first meet you. If you dislike the way your smile looks, this can also affect your confidence. You may feel uncomfortable showing off your teeth when you smile and this can affect your chances when it comes to interviews or first dates. If you give up smoking, this will help to prevent further staining. Once you’ve quit, you could consider professional whitening treatment to make your smile look whiter and brighter and boost your confidence. You can choose from convenient home whitening systems or in-chair treatments, which tend to produce instant results. Once your teeth have been whitened, it’s important to avoid smoking, as this leads to staining again.

Tips for giving up smoking

If you’ve been inspired to give up by National Smoking Day, there’s lots of help around. Employ some effective self-help techniques, such as:

  • avoiding places you normally smoke
  • switching up your routine
  • avoiding other smokers until you feel more confident about quitting
  • putting the money you save from not buying cigarettes to one side
  • keeping busy
  • exercising
  • keeping a written list of why you want to give up and the benefits of quitting for good
  • getting others to try and give up too

You can also find out about support groups in your local area and stop smoking services. If you’re struggling with cravings, ask your GP about nicotine replacement therapy and get in touch with a stop smoking adviser.

Most people are aware that smoking damages the lungs and increases the risk of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. However, the link between smoking and oral health problems is less well-known. See your dentist for help and advice and start building towards a happier, healthier smile.

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