As you probably already know, tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. What you may not know is tobacco users also are at increased risk for periodontal disease.
In fact, many studies have shown that tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
How Tobacco Use Affects Your Oral Health
Whether you smoke, dip or chew tobacco, you are more likely to have periodontal disease – and to have it more severely – than those who do not use any form of tobacco.
Smoking has many negative effects on your mouth. Smoking decreases the blood flow in the gums and affects the way the gums heal. This makes the gums more prone to infection. Smoking can also make your mouth shift to harboring more aggressive types of bacteria.
As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have calculus form on your teeth, have deeper pockets between your teeth and gums, and lose more of the bone and tissue that support your teeth.
If the calculus is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gum line, the bacteria in the calculus can destroy your gum tissue and cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria. If left untreated, periodontal disease will progress. The pockets between your teeth and gums can grow deeper, allowing in more bacteria that destroy tissue and supporting bone. As a result, the gums may shrink away from the teeth making them look longer. Without support, your teeth may become loose, painful and even fall out. Research shows that smokers lose more teeth than nonsmokers.
Smokeless Tobacco Users
As a user of smokeless tobacco, your gums are more likely to recede, and you have a greater chance of losing the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in your mouth. If your gums recede to the point where the tooth roots are exposed, your teeth may become susceptible to root cavities or sensitive to cold and touch (not to mention the fact that your chances of developing oral cancer increase significantly with smokeless tobacco use).
These problems, associated with tobacco use of any kind, are caused by the many chemicals, such as nicotine and tar, in tobacco. These chemicals have harmful effects on the periodontal tissues. They cause an increase in the accumulation of plaque and calculus (or tartar) that can irritate your gums and lead to infection. Following periodontal treatment or any type of oral surgery, the chemicals in tobacco can also slow down the healing process and make the treatment results less predictable.
Researchers also are finding that many of the following problems occur more often in patients who use tobacco:
- Oral cancer
- Bad breath
- Stained teeth
- Tooth loss
- Bone loss
- Loss of taste and smell
- Less success with periodontal treatment
- Less success with dental implants
- Gum recession
- Mouth sores
Why Quitting Makes Sense
Tobacco use is addictive, yet every year millions of Americans quit. The benefits include reduced chances of developing cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as less expensive health care. When you quit using tobacco, you also reduce your chances of getting oral and gum disease. Gums that are free of disease are essential to help you keep your teeth for a lifetime.
Quitting takes commitment but there are many resources available to help you make this important step to improve your health. Please talk with your periodontist or physician regarding options in beginning a tobacco-cessation program. They are prepared to help you.