Seventy percent of smokers would like to quit, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), but cravings and symptoms of withdrawal can make this difficult. If this sounds like you, don't be deterred – you can still do it. Here's some information on how to quit smoking and improve your oral health at the same time.
Smoking and Your Oral Health
Smoking doesn't just lead to bodily illness; it also has an adverse impact on your oral health. The American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site suggests smoking stains your teeth and tongue, and interferes with your sense of taste and smell. Because smoking slows the healing process, you may be prone to complications after dental surgery as well. Smoking ultimately weakens your immune system's response to bacteria, leaving you more susceptible to developing gum disease. Oral cancer is one of the most serious potential consequences of smoking.
Why Is It So Hard to Quit?
Don't let the exceptions fool you: Quitting can be hard. Nicotine changes the chemistry in your brain, so when your brain doesn't get the dose of nicotine it needs to feel normal, you can feel anxious and irritable, and have a strong desire to smoke. Nicotine is as addictive as other drugs like heroin, explains the U.S. Department of Health. The good news is that once you quit, your brain will have normalized itself within a month, putting you en route to breaking the cycle of addiction.
Plan for Success
You can do this, but to ensure success, create a "quit plan." Put your strategy in writing and keep it handy to boost your focus on quitting. Here's how a regimen of good oral habits can move you in the right direction:
Make an appointment with your dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Shiny clean teeth elicit a wonderfully fresh feeling, and can act as a start to kick the habit.
Get rid of smoking reminders. Cigarettes, ashtrays, matches and lighters are all triggers that can create cravings. Instead, refresh your car and home from the smell of cigarettes. Incorporate healthy oral substitutes with which to replace these cravings. Harvard's Help Guide suggests chewing sugar-free gum, eating nutritious snacks (carrots, celery and sunflower seeds) and staying hydrated can all help curb the urge to smoke.
List the reasons you are quitting. Whether for family, health or to save money, you need to remind yourself every day why you've chosen to stop. If you're already prone to gum disease and dental complications, this is a perfect incentive to stay away from cigarettes.
Know your smoking triggers. Make a list of everything that makes you feel like smoking. Then, designate how you will avoid these things. Whether it's through medication or behavioral strategies, getting past the symptoms of withdrawal requires a lifestyle change that goes beyond the cigarette butt itself.
Know where to go for immediate help. The first few weeks are the hardest and you may be very tempted to smoke, but by talking to your dentist, dental hygienist or a close friend, cravings will soon be few and far between. When in doubt, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
When you feel the need to pop a cigarette, brush your teeth instead. Using a toothpaste like Colgate® Sparkling White can help keep you from smoking and remove stains at the same time.
You Don't Have to Go It Alone
Most communities offer smoking cessation programs that provide you strategies on how to quit smoking. Groups, where everyone has the same goal, are inspiring and provide a good support system. Call your local hospital or Lung Association for programs near you.
Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or other medications that can lessen the urge to smoke. Federal health destinations like smokefree.gov are always at your disposal, whereas SmokefreeTXT is a text messaging service that can keep you on track when on the go.
In the end, it doesn't matter how you quit – it's just about doing it. Be proud of yourself for trying, and reward your successes. As a non-smoker, you're adding years onto your life and keeping your mouth healthy throughout it.