The past couple of years have been unpredictable and stressful for many. In fact, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during 2020, U.S adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the ways people cope with stress is by using substances, one of which is tobacco. It’s always a great time to think about things we can do to improve our overall health and tobacco cessation should be high on the list.
One of the often-overlooked consequences of tobacco use are issues with oral health. People use tobacco in a variety of ways:
- Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes
- Waterpipe smoking, or smoking with a hookah
- Chewed tobacco products include chewing tobacco, snuff, dip, and snus.
Whether smoked or chewed, tobacco products of all kinds have negative health implications for oral health.
Tobacco causes oral cancer, tooth decay, gum disease, oral infections and oral leukoplakia. According to the CDC, untreated tooth decay is higher in people who smoke cigarettes; people who smoke are 3 times more likely to lose all their teeth.
Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums which can affect the bone and supporting structures of the teeth. Smoking causes the mouth to be more dry than usual. This means bacteria and plaque stick on the teeth instead of getting washed off by saliva. Consequently, this build-up leads to the early stages of gum disease called gingivitis and an increase in cavities.
Many smokers are now turning to the e-cigarette as an alternative to traditional smoking. But “nicotine, whether smoked or vaped, restricts blood flow to the gums, which can contribute to periodontal disease. The fluid in e-cigarettes, which can include propylene glycol, benzene, formaldehyde and other chemicals, only increases the risks.”
Smoking weakens your body’s immune system, making it harder to fight infections in the mouth. The longer you smoke or use tobacco products, the greater the risk to your health. Depending on your dental recare frequency, your dentist should be performing regular oral cancer screenings. Checking all the tissues in the mouth for abnormal color or texture changes is important. Red spots, white spots, lumps, bumps and ulcers that won’t heal can all be precursors to oral cancer. If your Dentist is concerned, they may monitor the changes they see or even suggest a biopsy.
If you are using tobacco products in any form, please talk with your dentist about your oral health and ways to quit. There are many free resources available in your community. Below are some local, state, and national resources.
Tobacco Free Florida: https://tobaccofreeflorida.com/how-to-quit-tobacco