Overview

As hard as this may be to believe, your overall health — and your lifestyle habits — can have an impact on your dental health. Case in point: recent research has suggested a possible association between obesity and periodontal (gum) disease.8

And did you know that smoking tobacco products can make gum disease get worse faster? Studies have shown that smokers were three to six times more likely to suffer from advanced gum disease than nonsmokers. In addition, current or former heavy smokers were five times more likely to have severe bone loss than nonsmokers.6

Not only does smoking potentially increase the chance that you will develop gum disease, it can make treatment much more difficult. Further, the treatment may be less likely to succeed. That's because smoking hinders healing in your mouth.

Sometimes things we think look “cool” can also be a health hazard, like oral piercings. Oral infections are common, but they can also contribute to cracked or chipped teeth. Oral piercings can also lead to gum recession, which can cause teeth to come loose and fallout.

It may seem obvious but sugar is a major threat to dental health. Sugar, from the foods we eat, causes plaque to develop on our teeth. The plaque is then combined with carbohydrates and causes acid buildup. Then the acid breaks down the tooth enamel, which can cause cavities to form. Without treatment, cavities can penetrate deep into the tooth and cause pain or, in severe cases, tooth loss.

Understanding

Many medical professionals consider obesity to be a chronic disease. It is well understood that obesity is on the rise in the United States, and that younger and younger people are becoming obese due to poor nutrition and eating habits. Research has shown that obesity can increase the risk for hypertension, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate and colon cancers. Obesity may increase the chance of developing gum disease, and it could be insulin resistance that regulates the relationship between obesity and gum disease.7

Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars or pipes can cause cancers anywhere in the mouth or the part of the throat just behind the mouth. It can also cause cancers of the larynx, lungs, esophagus, kidneys, bladder and several other organs. Pipe smoking also can cause cancer in the area of the lips that contacts the pipe stem.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.8

Planning

Quitting smoking and losing weight a both important steps for improving your oral health.

Obesity increases your chances of developing gum disease, in addition to other health problems. Creating a workout routine or finding a workout buddy can help make exercise more fun and make it easier to achieve your goals

Quitting smoking is a process, it’s not easy but it’s possible. Put yourself on a path to success and create a plan:

  • Visit your dentist for a cleaning. A clean feeling mouth feels great and can help kick start your new healthier lifestyle.

  • Get rid of all smoking triggers, such as cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.

  • Incorporate healthy oral substitutes to help curb cravings. Chewing sugar free-gum, eating healthy snacks and drinking water can help you beat a craving.

  • Make a list of all the things that trigger your cravings, and then figure out a way to cope for each craving. Having a plan will help you stay strong when a craving occurs.

  • When you feel you need to smoke, brush your teeth instead.

A good way to help prevent sugars from damaging your teeth is to eat fewer sugary foods. When you do choose to indulge, do so during meal times, rather than snacking throughout the day. It is also important to practice good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing and biannual dental visits are good strategies to help keep your teeth healthy.