Cigarette smoking is recognised as the leading preventable cause of human death in the western world. Smoking affects most, if not all, of the body’s organs and tissue – including the teeth and gums.
In the mouth the means of attack is twofold. The initial inhalation of tobacco smoke introduces high concentrations of tobacco products, which include 2000 to 3000 toxic substances (such as nicotine and carbon monoxide). Then, after the initial phase has passed, these same products mount a secondary attack once they have been absorbed into the bloodstream – where the condition of our blood is an important contributor to the health or otherwise of our gums. In the blood these substances have a much lower concentration but are absorbed over a prolonged period of time.
The past 20 years of research have produced a multitude of evidence that the severity of gum disease is linked to use of tobacco. Compared with non-smokers, smokers demonstrate much greater levels of gum disease, affecting a larger part of their mouth and starting at a younger age.
Tobacco smoke appears to have two main effects on the human body. Firstly the toxins appear to disturb the body’s ability to respond to the progression of gum disease; and secondly the toxins appear to provide an environment in which the bacteria that cause gum disease are allowed to thrive.
The action of tobacco smoke on gum tissue has also been shown to lower a patient’s ability to respond to treatment of their gum disease. This is also evident in the long-term success rate of dental implant procedures. Both types of treatment are far more likely to fail in smokers than in non-smokers.
Quitting smoking has been shown to have a positive effect on the treatability of gum disease and hence on overall dental health. The response of patients who had never smoked compared with the response of those who gave up one year previously was the same. However, when both groups were compared with patients who still smoked, the non- or previous smokers responded far better to periodontal treatment than the smokers.
Smoking is also considered to be a major factor in the cause of oral cancer. This is generally related to high alcohol consumption. Patients who drink more than 30 standard drinks a week and smoke more that 20 cigarettes a day have a risk of developing oral cancer that is 20 times higher than those who drink and smoke at lower levels. Therefore if you are a heavy smoker and heavy drinker you should have your mouth examined by a dentist regularly as oral cancer may be able to be effectively treated if detected early but is difficult to treat if found late.
All in all, smoking is seriously detrimental to the health of your mouth including teeth and gums hence your overall health – a very good reason to try to quit.