Yellow teeth and bad breath – those are the top two oral consequences most people associate with smoking and using tobacco products. While unpleasant and unsightly, however, these are only surface level symptoms of even bigger health problems that could be lurking below. Multiple mouth-related diseases and conditions are caused by or can be attributed to smoking.

Gum Disease and Tooth Decay

The mouth is one of the body’s first lines of defense against disease. The nicotine and other compounds in cigarette smoke can alter the immune system’s response to bacteria – including the bacteria responsible for plaque build-up. Furthermore, there is a much greater presence of certain harmful bacteria in the mouth of smokers than in non-smokers. The result is an increased risk of tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontal disease, as well as a poor response to gum disease treatment.

Oral Cancer

Tobacco has long been associated with cancer risk, but it is not just lung cancer that smokers should be concerned with. Oral cancer has strong ties to tobacco products, as smokers and people who chew tobacco have a significantly higher risk of developing malignant mouth lesions than those who do not. In fact, an estimated four in five cases of oral cancer can be linked to use of tobacco, alcohol, or both. Fortunately, people who stop smoking can dramatically lower their risks for developing oral cancer in the future – even if they have smoked for many years.

Other Effects of Smoking

In addition to gum disease, tooth decay and cancer, smoking can also cause other problems for dental patients. For example, since accelerated gum disease and tooth decay cause many smokers to lose their teeth, they often turn to dental implants to restore the appearance and function of a healthy smile. Unfortunately, smoking increases the risk of dental implant failure. A smoker’s risk of dental implant failure is more than double the risk of a non-smoker.

Smokers are also more likely to experience oral pigmentation issues, tooth discoloration, and other aesthetic issues than non- smokers are. One condition – smoker’s melanosis – occurs when tobacco smoke stimulates an overproduction of melanin in the mouth. This results in visible browns spots in the mouth, which can also make it more difficult to identify cancerous and pre- cancerous lesions.

Other aesthetic changes include the development of red-centered bumps along the roof of the mouth (nicotinic stomatitis), as well as an overgrowth and discoloration of the papillae ‘hairs’ that line the tongue, causing the tongue to take on an unpleasant and hairy appearance. Of course, smoking can also cause yellowing of the teeth, dentures and dental fillings – even more so than other known sources of discoloration, such as coffee and tea.

Time to Quit

The good news is that smokers can stop the progression of tobacco-related conditions and even reverse them even after years of smoking. If you are a smoker concerned about your oral health, talk with Dr. Petrone at Lane Avenue Family Dentistry about quitting. Many people have successfully stopped smoking, and you can too.