Smoker's Mouth: Treating & Reversing

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Smoking causes a lot of damage inside your mouth. As explained by the American Dental Association (ADA), the habit stains your teeth, causes bad breath and contributes to the development of both gum disease and oral cancer. Once you stop smoking, there are a number of options available to help you reverse the damage to your oral cavity. Here are four ways to control the odorous smokers mouth while or after quitting.

1. Oral Hygiene at Home

Smoking is a major cause of bad breath, but with a consistent oral hygiene routine, you can leave it behind. Cigarettes encourage bacterial growth inside your mouth, while the smell of cigarettes themselves lingers on your breath, creating a combination that's hard to get rid of. Start by renewing your commitment to a good oral hygiene routine that keeps things fresh in the short term.

It's important to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Ensure that you brush every surface, not just the front-facing enamel. Flossing should be done at least once per day, taking care to wrap the floss around each tooth to clean along the gumline. Rinsing your mouth with antibacterial mouthwash like Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield® Mouthwash will help to freshen your breath as well, but only as a supplement to the brushing and flossing you should focus on every day.

2. Whitening Treatments

Smoking stains your enamel over time, but this discoloration can be reversed after you quit. There are many whitening treatments available, from home treatments to professional applications.

Whitening toothpastes you can use at home have an abrasiveness that gently polishes your enamel to remove each stain. Mouthrinses that contain hydrogen peroxide can also be added to your daily routine to gradually improve the color of your teeth. Whitening gel pens are another popular way to whiten teeth at home, coated with a similar peroxide gel that helps to strip away the hardened residue left over by each cigarette.

If you'd like your dentist to whiten your teeth, you can expect a slightly more involved process. A whitening gel will be applied to your teeth, followed by an ultraviolet light shined against the gel to activate its whitening ingredients. This professional treatment can give you immediate results in a single appointment.

3. Gum Disease Treatment

Smoking increases your risk of gum disease, a type of periodontal infection caused by the bacteria in plaque. This infection can damage the tissues that hold your teeth in place, and without treatment, your teeth can even fall out. The characteristic signs of gum disease — redness and bleeding — are less obvious in smokers, so you could have gum disease without knowing it. Your dentist will evaluate your gum health during a post-quitting checkup.

If you do have gum disease, a thorough dental cleaning known as scaling and root planing can reverse its effects. Your dentist will use a combination of manual and ultrasonic instruments to remove plaque from your teeth, including beneath your gumline. The roots of your teeth will also be scaled to decrease inflammation and prevent plaque from accumulating, which happens more quickly as smoking slows the body's natural healing process.

4. Oral Cancer Screenings

Tobacco use is one of the biggest risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity. The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) reports that between 75 to 90 percent of all oral cancers can be attributed to cigarette smoking. Quitting plays a major role in reducing your risk of these cancers for this reason. Studies have shown developing oral cancer is up to 50 percent less likely three to five years after you kick the habit.

While quitting reduces your risk significantly, it doesn't bring it to zero. To protect yourself, be sure to receive regular oral cancer screenings from your dentist, who will examine your mouth for suspicious sores or lumps that could indicate a malignant condition. Screenings are important because oral cancer is more treatable when it's identified at an early stage.

Smoking leads to both cosmetic and medical issues inside your mouth, but once you quit, these problems can be reversed. With the help of your dentist and your dental hygienist, you can make smokers mouth a distant memory and take back control of your oral health.