Tobacco is linked to a number of health complications, including those inside your mouth. To raise awareness of these conditions and encourage people to stop using tobacco (in all of its forms), the World Health Organization (WHO) holds World No Tobacco Day every year on May 31. Here are five oral health complications linked to tobacco that should be top of mind:
1. Gum Disease
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that makes your gums red, swollen and eventually destructive to the soft tissues and bones that hold your teeth in place. Poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, but tobacco use is also a major risk factor. Smokers are up to six times more likely than nonsmokers to have periodontal disease, according to Delta Dental.
Tobacco decreases both the blood flow to your gum tissue and salivary flow throughout your oral cavity. These factors allow more plaque and calculus, which are full of bacteria, to accumulate on your teeth, while also making your gums less able to fight disease and heal themselves. These effects aren't permanent, but they need your help to subside; if you stop using tobacco, your risk of gum disease will be about the same as a nonsmoker's in about 11 years.
2. Oral Cancer
Tobacco use is a major cause of oral cancer, explains Health Canada. This is because tobacco contains carcinogenic chemicals, which, when smoked or chewed, exposes your oral tissues to them. Genetic changes may then occur in the cells of your oral tissues, resulting in oral cancer. Keep in mind the disease may present as a simply mouth sore or swelling that doesn't heal.
Similar to gum disease, your risk for developing oral cancer decreases significantly when you stop using tobacco products. In fact, 10 to 20 years after you quit, your risk will be about the same as a lifelong nonsmoker. Of course it's still a good idea to see your dentist regularly for oral cancer screenings.
3. Delayed Healing
Smoking impairs the healing process inside your mouth. This is because the chemicals in tobacco decrease the blood flow to your oral tissues. Blood flow is important because blood brings oxygen to your tissues, and oxygen plays a key role in the healing process.
Delayed healing inside your mouth can complicate a number of dental procedures. If you get a dental implant, for example, your implant will be more likely to fail due to poor bone healing. Tooth extractions may also be more complicated because slow healing makes the extraction site vulnerable to infection. Delayed healing can decrease the effectiveness of gum disease treatments, as well.
4. Stained Teeth
The nicotine and tar in cigarettes can stain your fingers or even the walls of your house, so it's no surprise that they do the same thing to your teeth. Over time, the outer layer of your teeth become discolored, and may take on a yellow or even brown tint. Dental restorations like veneers or crowns can also become stained due to tobacco.
Brushing with Colgate Total® Advanced Whitening Toothpaste or seeing your dentist for a professional whitening treatment can help return your teeth to their former white color, but as long as you keep smoking these treatments are just a temporary fix. If you continue to smoke or chew tobacco, your teeth can darken despite these treatments, they don’t cancel each other out.
5. Bad Breath
Bad breath, colloquially known as "smoker's breath" and clinically named "halitosis," is another oral health complication associated with tobacco use. This can be caused by bacterial buildup inside your mouth or just the lingering smell of the tobacco itself.
Although bad breath remedies such as brushing and flossing regularly or freshening your breath with mouthwash can help keep the odor under control, they aren't permanent solutions for smoker's breath. To get rid of the odor for good, you need to stop using tobacco, and May 31 may be the perfect time to do so.
World No Tobacco Day seeks to raise awareness of these health complications. Quitting tobacco is challenging due to its addictive properties, but with your dentist's and dental hygienist's help, you can take back control of your oral health.