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What You Need to Know About Smoking and Oral Health

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Lung-based diseases – lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis – usually come to mind when thinking about the health consequences of smoking. But because cigarette smoking can affect nearly every organ in your body, it's not surprising that your oral health can take a hit too. Here's what you need to know about smoking and oral health in order to stay healthy.

Reality Check

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. So whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars or a smokeless tobacco product, the fact remains: There really is no healthy level of exposure in a tobacco product, even second-hand. Your risk for tobacco-related diseases, including those affecting your oral health, depends on how long you've smoked and the number of cigarettes smoked each day.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer involves the gradual mutation of healthy cells in your mouth and can occur a number of ways. Smoking plays a significant role in the many cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. A University of California study showed that 8 out of 10 patients with oral cancer were smokers. Whenever you inhale, the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke first pass through your mouth and throat before reaching your lungs. Through time and repeat exposure, these chemicals cause changes to your oral cavity, which can lead to oral cancer.

Nevertheless, this is a preventable disease. By avoiding smoking and other high-risk behaviors and seeing a dentist regularly for routine checkups, you can keep oral cancer out of your future.

Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Periodontal disease, an infection of the gums and bone surrounding the teeth, comes from buildups of harmful oral bacteria and can lead to tooth loss. But bacteria are not the only culprits when it comes to gum disease. The CDC reports that smokers have more than twice the risk for gum disease compared to non-smokers.

Smoking interferes with your immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight off conditions like gum infections. Periodontal treatment may not even have the same successful outcome for a smoker as a nonsmoker, because smoking makes it harder for your gums to heal.

Bad Breath and Stained Teeth

Besides the more serious risks of oral cancer and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, smoking can also affect your sense of taste and smell and delay your recovery after a tooth extraction or other dental procedure. In addition, the tar from cigarette smoke stains your teeth, causes bad breath and can discolor your tongue. The only way to remove these stains is with a professional cleaning in the dentist's office.

Keeping Up with Home Care

The nicotine in cigarettes is an extremely addictive substance; this is why breaking a smoking habit isn't easy. However, if you are a smoker, quitting will be an important step in improving your overall health.

Because quitting can be so challenging, most people need support. Don't hesitate to talk to your dental professional about your desire to stop. As you develop a course of action to help you quit smoking, keeping your mouth and teeth as clean as possible can be daily encouragement to push for perfect health. Brushing often with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily prevents tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Now that you know the dangers of smoking and oral health, remember that it's never too late to start the process of a better and healthier lifestyle.