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You probably already know that smoking increases your risk of heart disease and cancer, but you should also be aware that cigarettes can destroy your oral health. If you smoke cigarettes, even regular brushing and flossing may not protect you from the dangers of this bad habit. Here, learn about the ways that smoking can harm your oral health.
Gum Disease and Tooth Loss
Smoking increases the risk of a serious gum disease called periodontitis. In a 2000 study in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that compared to non-smokers, cigarette smokers were more likely to suffer from moderate or severe periodontitis, and they had higher rates of gum recession and more missing teeth than non-smokers. Study results showed that 25.7 percent of current smokers had periodontitis. This number dropped to 20.2 percent for former smokers and 13.1 percent for never-smokers.
Smoking is associated with tooth loss even in younger adults. In 2007, researchers for the journal BMC Public Health found that among adults aged 20-39, tooth loss was more common in current smokers than among former and never-smokers. The risk of tooth loss increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. According to a 2007 study in the Journal of Dental Research, men who smoke between five and 14 cigarettes per day are twice as likely as never-smokers are to experience tooth loss. The risk is three times higher among those who smoke 45 or more cigarettes daily.
Smoking is also linked to tooth decay, or cavities. In 2015, researchers for the journal Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology discovered that young male smokers were significantly more likely to experience tooth decay. In a 2008 study of professional truck drivers, scientists for Caries Research found that exposure to tobacco was associated with more tooth decay. Specifically, study participants who smoked at least 10 cigarettes per day were more likely to have large cavities than were those who smoked one to three cigarettes daily.
Unfortunately, even secondhand smoke can contribute to tooth decay. A 2003 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that passive smoking was associated with increased risk of decayed teeth among children.
It should come as no surprise that cigarette smoking can increase the risk of oral cancers. A 2013 study in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that even lower levels of tobacco smoking increased the risk for cancer of the oral cavity.
Additional research has supported a link between smoking and oral cancer. In 2011, researchers for Oral Oncology found that being a smoker increased the risk of tongue cancer by 26 percent.
In addition to contributing to specific diseases, smoking can harm oral health by increasing bacteria levels. In a 2008 study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, scientists found that cigarette smoke increased the growth of streptococcus bacteria.
Smoking can cause further damage by interfering with antioxidant activity in the mouth. Researchers for a 2008 publication of Bio-factors found that the presence of cigarette smoke decreased antioxidant levels in saliva. The researchers concluded that this could be the mechanism that links smoking to inflammatory diseases and the development of cancer.
Reducing the Risks
The research clearly indicates that cigarette smoking is associated with multiple oral health risks, including tooth decay, gum disease, and cancer. In fact, the authors of a 2001 report in the Journal of Dental Education have advised that smoking is responsible for half of the cases of gum disease and three-fourths of oral cancers that occur in the United States. Fortunately, these same authors have reported that the risks are reduced over time after smoking cessation. It is therefore vital that smokers engage in smoking cessation programs to protect their oral health.
Regular dental care can also play a role in risk reduction. For instance, the 2011 study in Oral Oncology found that having a regular dentist reduced the risk of mouth cancer by 16 percent. Routine dental care can make patients aware of potential problems before they become serious. Quality care, coupled with smoking cessation, can improve oral health considerably. If you are a smoker, now is the time to schedule a check-up and work with your healthcare providers to develop a plan for quitting.
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Dr. Alexander Yeh and Dr. Iyad Al-Qishawi are registered general dentists. They graduated in the same class at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Dentistry.
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