Tobacco - An Oral Health Nightmare

National Lung Cancer Awareness and Tobacco on Teeth

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which means that teen smoking and the effects of tobacco use on our bodies will be a big topic this month. As dental professionals, we think this is wonderful news! Why? We’re excited because it brings to light a very important oral health topic, tobacco’s effect on our teeth. Hopefully, this article will give your even more information and reason to help you quit or never start smoking in the first place!

Tobacco and Your Entire Body

When you think of smoking or using smokeless tobacco you think of lung cancer, throat cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Sometimes, you may even think of the terrible brown stains left on your teeth after extensive tobacco use. Very rarely, though, do people consider the full spectrum of damage tobacco has on your oral health.

Oral health problems brought on by tobacco use don’t stop at your mouth. Infections caused by smoking can have long-lasting effects on your entire body. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of disease and death in the United States. Each year, tobacco use causes nearly 6 million deaths worldwide, including more than 480,000 deaths in the United States. This is more than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and murders combined.

The good news is that you can do something about it! You don’t have to be a victim of tobacco. There are many ways to get help quitting smoking. Get educated and quit before the damage to your body is too much.

How Tobacco Causes Oral Health Problems

Though it is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, smoking can cause far more damage to your body than just lung cancer. Tobacco’s affect on teeth can lead to heart disease, gum disease, and studies have shown that it can hurt nearly every organ in the human body in varying degrees.

When it comes to your mouth alone, using tobacco can quickly bring about periodontitis (gum disease), which generally causes your gums to recede and then your teeth to become loose or can even fall out. Many dental issues are hereditary, so why do something to your body like smoking which further harms your teeth? Smokers have increased risks of worn down and stained teeth, as well as tooth decay.

When you smoke or use tobacco products, the nicotine in the tobacco gets into your bloodstream. This causes the blood vessels in your gums to shrink. When this happens, the pockets that form between your teeth and gums (called periodontal pockets) become deeper. These deeper pockets are difficult to clean, so they fill up with bacteria and other debris, which can cause gum disease. If you have gum disease, it’s important to see your dentist or periodontist so they can treat the infection before it gets worse.

Tobacco’s Effect on Pregnant Women

Smoking can be detrimental to your child’s health even before they are born. You might think that since they aren’t breathing the smoke yet, it is ok, but in reality, it still affects them. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have a miscarriage, premature birth, or low birth weight baby. Babies born to mothers who smoke are also at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and other respiratory problems.

Smoking during pregnancy can also cause birth defects, including serious heart defects. Quitting smoking before you get pregnant, or even better, not smoking at all, is the best way to protect your baby’s health.

Effects of Smokeless Tobacco on Teeth

There is no such thing as a safe tobacco product because even chewing tobacco and snuff have horrible health consequences. Similar to smoking tobacco, smokeless tobacco is a carcinogen, which means that it can also lead to cancer, as well heart disease.

Because there is about three times more nicotine in chewing tobacco, some find it more addictive. Your beautiful smile will also be highly affected. In many cases, users are also at risk for gum disease and tooth decay. Though smokeless tobacco has many of the same dangers as smoking tobacco, the risks are statistically lower. That being said, it’s still not a good habit to get into.

Teens and Tobacco

Tobacco use is started and established primarily in adolescence. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 9 out of 10 tobacco users start before they turn 18. This makes sense when you think about peer pressure and wanting to fit in with a certain group.

You may have friends who use tobacco products and tell you that it’s no big deal, but it is. Tobacco use is not only harmful to your health, but it’s also addictive. Once you start using tobacco, it’s hard to stop.

I would guess that the last thing you would want as a teen, is to be the one with the yellow teeth, as this is the first effect you will notice.

If you don’t smoke or use tobacco products, don’t start. If you do smoke or use tobacco products, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Talk to your parents, doctor, or another trusted adult about quitting. There are many resources available to help you quit, such as counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, and prescription drugs.

Terminate Teen Tobacco Use

It goes without saying that there are many responsibilities and worries belonging to parenthood, but we would love to cross teen smoking off your list of worries for your child. Incredibly, in the last two years, youth or more specifically teen smoking is at a record low in over twenty years!

Worried about your child or teen smoking? Here are a few preventative tips:

  1. Mom and dad, practice what you preach! No smoking.
  2. Teach them the health consequences of smoking. Be honest.
  3. Explain that smoking is addictive and what that means.
  4. Communicate what peer pressure is and how to combat it.
  5. Educate them on the financial expenses that come with smoking.

Share this information with your children, because teen smoking is extremely serious and not “just a phase.” Even so, you aren’t fooling anyone if you are trying to hide the fact that you are a smoker… well, you definitely won’t fool your dentist. There is a lot that we can tell about your health and lifestyle just from your bi-yearly dental check-ups.

How to Quit Tobacco for Good

As we have discussed, tobacco use can lead to a variety of oral health problems, many of which are irreversible. The best way to avoid these problems is to quit using tobacco products altogether.

There are many ways to quit, and some methods work better for some people than others. You may need to try a few different methods before you find the one that works best for you.

Here are a few tips that may help you quit:

  • Set a quit date and stick to it.
  • Tell your family and friends about your decision to quit. They can provide support and encouragement.
  • Remove tobacco products from your home and avoid places where people are smoking.
  • Avoid triggers that make you want to smoke or use tobacco, such as alcohol or certain people.
  • Exercise to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Talk to your doctor about quitting. They can prescribe medication to help with withdrawal symptoms, such as nicotine replacement therapy or antidepressants.
  • There are also many support groups available, both online and in person.

Quitting smoking may not be easy, but it is worth it for you and your children. In addition, floss daily and thoroughly brush your teeth often to remove plaque and prevent stains, though this won’t thwart disease like not smoking.

Schedule a Dental Check-Up

Feel free to pick up the phone or browse our website. Even request an appointment with Snodgrass-King! Your health and smile truly matter to us. As always, be the best example for your children to follow.