Smoking and Your Teeth | Robina Town Dental
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Smoking and Your Teeth


Smoking affects many aspects of health, including oral health. As well as directly causing stains and bad breath, tobacco use is a major factor in developing oral diseases and can affect your mouth in other ways.

If you or someone you know smokes, cutting down or trying to quit could lower your risk factors considerably. It’s also important to see a dentist for regular check-ups. A dentist can also offer advice if you’re struggling to give up the habit.

Friday, 31 May is World No Tobacco Day, dedicated to raising awareness of the health risks of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Here’s an overview of how a smoking habit can take its toll on your teeth, gums and overall oral health.

What does smoking do to your teeth?

Teeth are the first point of contact for cigarettes and tobacco smoke, which can affect them in obvious and more subtle ways. Regular smoking may lead to teeth staining and discolouration as well as increasing the rate of tooth decay and tooth loss.

Teeth stains and discolouration

The effect of smoking on teeth that most smokers are likely to be aware of is its potential to leave stains on their surfaces. Over time, the build-up of nicotine and tar from tobacco can cause teeth to turn yellow or brown. Teeth that have been worn by decay, acid wear or natural ageing can stain more easily.

While brushing and professional dental cleans may reduce surface staining, they’re not always enough to prevent it, especially for heavy smokers. Cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening or dental veneers may be chosen to cover up more persistent stains.

Tooth decay

Smoking may also increase the rate of tooth decay by supporting the build-up of bacteria on the teeth in the form of plaque. These bacteria release acids that wear down the tooth enamel each time you consume sugar or starch, which can eventually lead to cavities and may need a filling.

People who smoke are more likely to have untreated tooth decay. Tooth decay can be reduced with good brushing and flossing habits and by limiting sugar in your diet, but it’s also important to keep up with your regular dental check-ups. A dentist can spot possible signs of decay before it causes permanent damage.

Tooth loss

Smoking is a major risk factor for gum disease, which is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Consequently, people who smoke are more likely to have missing teeth. Teeth can become loose when the structures in the mouth and jaw holding them in place start to deteriorate.

Missing teeth can affect how you eat and speak. Losing multiple teeth may also have an impact on your bite and your facial appearance, as the teeth help to support the surrounding jaw and face. Dentists will recommend replacing missing teeth with a bridge, dentures or dental implants to help restore their function and appearance.

Smoking and oral health

Beyond the teeth, tobacco and other substances in cigarette smoke can also cause other problems in your mouth, which in turn can impact on your wider health. During a routine dental check-up, your dentist will also examine your gums, tongue, cheeks and throat to check for signs of smoking-related problems such as:

Gum disease

Gum disease is an infection of the gum by plaque bacteria that build up on teeth around the gumline. In its early stage, known as gingivitis, it may cause the gum to itch, appear red or swollen, or to bleed when brushing or flossing the teeth. If gingivitis isn’t treated, it can develop into more serious periodontitis, which can cause the gums to recede and can eventually lead to tooth loss.
Smoking increases the risk of gum disease by affecting the body’s inflammation response. In a heavy smoker, the risk can be 4 to 5 times greater than a non-smoker. Gum disease can also be harder to detect in smokers, as smoking can reduce blood flow, which reduces swelling and gum bleeding. Smokers may also have less success with gum treatments and other dental hygiene treatments.

Oral cancer

Smoking is also a leading risk factor for oral or mouth cancer, as with other types of cancer. This refers to cancers that develop in or around the mouth, including areas such as the lips, cheeks, tongue, and roof and floor of the mouth. Oral cancer caused by smoking may be more likely to affect the lips, tongue and floor of the mouth.

Signs that may indicate mouth cancer include persistent mouth ulcers, red or white patches in the mouth and swelling. Early diagnosis is important for the success of treatments, which may involve radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. Your dentist may offer regular oral cancer screenings as part of your dental check-ups.

Poor healing

Smoking and tobacco use also slow down the body’s ability to fight infections and to heal after an injury or surgery, which can extend the recovery time needed following dental procedures such as wisdom tooth removal. Smokers are more likely to experience complications such as a dry socket, when the site of an extraction is prevented from healing and can become painful.

Tobacco use can also affect the success of procedures such as gum disease treatment and dental implants, with smoking being a leading cause of implant failure. If you’re getting dental implants, your dentist will require that you commit to give up smoking at least during the critical healing period.

Other effects of smoking on the mouth

Other problems that may be more likely to affect smokers include:

  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth, either caused directly by smoking or by a smoking-related condition such as gum disease
  • Reduced sense of smell and taste
  • Gaps appearing or widening between the teeth
  • Gums pulling back from the teeth, revealing the sensitive tooth roots
  • Prone to oral infections, mouth sores or ulcers
  • Whitening of the roof and floor of the mouth, known as keratosis
  • Increasing pain or sensitivity after a dental treatment

Is vaping bad for my teeth?

Vapes or e-cigarettes may be considered less harmful than tobacco, but they may be just as damaging to oral health. Even vaping products that are nicotine-free may still contain harmful substances such as heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There is currently less evidence about the effects of vaping on teeth and gums than traditional cigarettes, especially in the long term, but some studies suggest that vaping can cause inflammation, which may increase the risk for gum disease and other problems.

Vaping also has some of the side effects associated with tobacco use, including temporary loss of taste.

What happens if I quit smoking?

Smoking-related oral health risks increase with use, but the opposite is also true. Smokers who are able to cut down by a number of cigarettes per day can lower their risk factor for gum disease, oral cancer and other serious problems. Those who quit the habit altogether may eventually see their risk factors reach those of a non-smoker, though for heavy smokers this can sometimes take years.

Quitting smoking can take a strong will and determination. You can talk to your dentist or other health care provider for their advice and recommendations of products or support groups you might find helpful. You can also call Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) for guidance and support.

Other ways to lower your oral health risks

Giving up smoking can help to lower your risk of tooth decay and other dental diseases, but you could lower your risks further by following your dentist’s advice about good oral hygiene care. This includes:

  • Brushing your teeth and gums twice daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste and brush for two minutes, taking care to brush the front, back and chewing surfaces thoroughly.
  • Cleaning between your teeth using dental floss, an interdental brush or another alternative recommended by your dentist.
  • Drinking plenty of water. Tap water and bottled water containing fluoride provide extra protection against plaque.
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking and heavy smoking combined can significantly increase oral health risks.
  • Limiting sugar in your diet to avoid feeding the bacteria responsible for tooth decay. Eating a balanced diet will provide important nutrients for teeth and oral health.
  • Visiting a dentist every 6 to 12 months for a check-up and professional clean, or as often as they recommend based on your individual risk profile.

See a Gold Coast dentist today

If you’re due for an oral health check or you want to see a dentist for any reason, contact our friendly team at Robina Town Dental to make an appointment with one of our experienced professionals. Call 07 5575 9100 or contact us and we'll help you arrange an appointment at a time that’s good for you.

Our Gold Coast dental clinic is conveniently located in Robina Town Centre. Our dentists also welcome patients from nearby suburbs like Burleigh Heads, Burleigh Waters, Clear Island Waters, Mermaid Waters, Merrimac, Miami, Mudgeeraba, Varsity Lakes and Worongary.

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