If you smoke, or you have friends and family who do, you're probably aware of the negative effects tobacco can have on health. But do you know how it affects your teeth and gums?
Thursday, 31st May 2018 is World No Tobacco Day, which aims to educate people on the health consequences of smoking and to encourage smokers to kick the habit. If you need even more reasons to quit, you might be surprised to learn that smoking is a risk factor for a wide range of oral health problems, and giving up could lower these risks considerably.
Dental caries (tooth decay) is a disease spread by bacteria in plaque. These bacteria produce acids that can wear down the hard enamel surface of the teeth, leading to cavities, toothache and infections.
A 2014 report by the US Surgeon General found that smokers are more likely to have tooth decay, missing teeth and fillings compared to non-smokers.
Another study of 100,000 New South Wales residents found that those who smoked were 2.5 times more likely to have lost all their teeth than people who never smoked.
Periodontal (gum) disease is also caused by bacteria in plaque. When it reaches the gum line, plaque can irritate the gums, causing them to redden, swell or bleed when brushed. If the disease isn't treated, it can cause permanent damage to the gums and the support structures of the teeth. Gum disease is the leading case of tooth loss for adults.
Your risk of developing gum disease increases the more you smoke. People who smoke up to 10 cigarettes a day are at twice the risk of non-smokers, while heavy smokers may be up to five times as likely to get the disease.
As smoking reduces the blood supply to the gums, bleeding gums may not be a symptom of gum disease for smokers, which can delay diagnosis. Smoking can also make gum disease more severe and interfere with its treatment.
Tobacco use is the primary cause of oral cancer in more than half of cases in Australia. Combined with heavy drinking, the risk factor is even higher.
These cancers can affect a number of soft tissues in and around your mouth. Quitting smoking and giving up alcohol could lower your risk factor to a normal level within 10 years.
If you're a smoker, you should ask your dentist if they offer an oral cancer screening as part of your regular check-up.
Giving up smoking can have huge benefits for your oral health (and your general health). After you quit, some risk factors may drop by half within five years and others could approach the level of a non-smoker within 10 years.
Improving your oral hygiene can also help to keep plaque and dental disease at bay. You should aim to brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss once a day, follow a balanced diet and keep up with your regular dental check-ups.
If it's been longer than six months since you visited the dentist, make an appointment with our team at Swish Dental. We'll give you a complete oral health assessment, including an oral cancer screening if you think you might be in a risk category.
 Better Health Channel. Smoking and oral health [Online] 2013 [Updated March 2017, accessed April 2018] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-and-oral-health
 Tobacco In Australia. Dental diseases [Online] 2013 [Updated March 2015, accessed April 2018] Available from: http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-3-health-effects/3-11-dental-diseases
 Australian Government Department of Health. The effect of smoking on your mouth [Online] 2012 [Updated May 2012, accessed April 2018] Available from: http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/Content/effect-on-mouth