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 that smoking stains your teeth and tongue, while also interfering with your sense of taste and smell. Because smoking slows the healing process, you may also be prone to complications after dental surgery. Smoking ultimately weakens your immune system's response to germs, leaving you more susceptible to developing gum problems. 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 normalised 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. Clean and shiny teeth elicit a wonderfully fresh feeling and can motivate you 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 that 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 why 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, determine how you will avoid these temptations. Whether it's through medication or behavioural 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 you feel the need to pop a cigarette, brush your teeth instead. Using a fluoridated toothpaste can help keep you from smoking and protect your teeth at the same time.
You Don't Have to Go It Alone
Most communities offer smoking cessation programmes that recommend strategies on quitting smoking. Joining a group where everyone has the same goal can be inspiring and provide a good support system. Call your local hospital or Cancer Association for programmes near you.
Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or other medications that can lessen the urge to smoke.
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 to your life and keeping your mouth healthy at the same time.