An image of a man smoking a cigarette, which is detrimental to dental health.

Tobacco and Your Dental Health

Everyone knows that smoking and tobacco use is harmful to the lungs and heart. Notably, it causes lung cancer and heart disease. However, fewer people are aware of the fact that tobacco also damages your mouth, teeth, gums and throat, which is detrimental to your dental health.

The Rise of Tobacco Use

Nearly half a million people in the U.S. die of various smoking-related causes each year. After the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on smoking’s effects on health was released, smoking by adults fell from 42.4% in 1965 to 17.9% in 2013.

On the other hand, according to a 2016 American Dental Association report on the prevalence and health effects of tobacco use, “despite overwhelming evidence linking [it] to systemic and oral disease,” 21.3% of all U.S. adults and 24.6% of all U.S. high school adolescents [still] report using at least one tobacco product.” Around 3,800 adolescents and young adults taking up the habit each day.

At the same time, the number and types of tobacco products have increased. Not only do they include cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Some people are even using smokeless tobacco forms such as oral snuff, chewing tobacco, snus (pulverized tobacco in mouth pouches), compressed dissolvable tobacco, water pipes (hookahs), and, since 2007, electronic or e-cigarettes, whose rise in sales have reportedly become “meteoric.”

The Impact Tobacco Has on Our Dental Health

The most apparent oral effects of tobacco on your dental health are tooth discoloration and bad breath. Less obvious are the following:

  • Increased plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth, leading to cavities, gum disease, progressive gingival and periodontal disease. This can also cause jawbone and tooth loss.
  • Inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the mouth’s roof.
  • Increased risk of white patches (leukoplakia) in the mouth.
  • Oral and throat cancers (laryngeal, pharyngeal, and esophageal).
  • In the mouth, smoking and tobacco use interfere with the normal function of gum tissue cells, weakening the teeth’s attachment to the gums and jawbone and paving the way for periodontitis and other infections.
  • The habit may also inhibit blood flow to the gums, affecting healing.

One of a dentist’s most important functions is to screen for signs of such diseases, provide treatment, and counsel patients on preventive and remedial practices.


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