When it comes to your oral health, there are certain things that can be beneficial and other things that are detrimental. Tobacco use is one example of something that can be extremely detrimental to your oral health. Smoking cigarettes is one of the most common forms of tobacco use, but it is not the only one. Cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, electronic cigarettes (vapes), and compressed dissolvable tobacco are all different ways that tobacco can be consumed.
Not only does regular tobacco use negatively affect your overall health and increase your risk for serious medical conditions, but it is also majorly destructive to your oral health. Tobacco use can also make it harder for your dentist to effectively treat certain oral health conditions. Here is what tobacco use does to your oral health:
Stains Your Teeth
One of the first things that tobacco use does to your oral health is stain your teeth. Two common ingredients in tobacco, tar and nicotine, have been found to prematurely stain teeth. Tar tends to stain the teeth a grey-black color, while nicotine stains the teeth a yellowish color. Tar can also cause the gums to take on a grey-black tint. Tobacco use also increases the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulate on the surface of the teeth. As colored pigments from tar nicotine collect in plaque and tartar, this can make the stains stand out. This usually results in the teeth of tobacco users being both dull and discolored.
Wears Down the Teeth
While staining the teeth is mostly an aesthetic concern, it is also important to note that tobacco use actually damages the tooth enamel. Certain forms of tobacco including cigars, chewing tobacco, and unprocessed tobacco leaves actually contain highly abrasive particles. When these particles are combined with saliva, they form an abrasive paste that gradually wears down the tooth enamel. The thinner the enamel becomes, the more likely it is that you will develop tooth decay and/or tooth sensitivity.
Increases the Risk of Gum Disease
Gum disease is a common oral health problem that occurs when excess plaque accumulates along the gum line. The bacteria found in plaque eventually infects the gum tissue and causes inflammation. Gum disease tends to be highly prevalent in people who use tobacco because they have more plaque and tartar that accumulates on the surface of their teeth. People who use tobacco are also more likely to suffer from severe forms of gum disease that can result in jawbone deterioration and eventual tooth loss.
Increases the Risk of Oral Cancer
People who smoke are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer, while those who use chewing tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer. Oral cancer is a general term used to describe cancer that affects any of the oral structures such as: lips, inside of the cheeks, tongue, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palates, sinuses, or throat. Oral cancer is more likely to occur in the lip lining, cheeks, or gums of people who use chewing tobacco since this is where chewing tobacco is often stored.
Decreases Healing Ability
Finally, tobacco use decreases an individual’s ability to heal. This is because tobacco use restricts blood flow to the gums and prevents the delivery of natural healing components. As a result, people who use tobacco experience longer recovery periods after extractions, oral surgery, and periodontal treatments. A decreased healing ability also makes post treatment complications more likely and can limit the types of treatments that can be used.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.