12 consequences of smoking on oral health

Smoking is one of the most dangerous habits for our health and it’s especially harmful to the oral cavity. Here we show some of the negative consequences that tobacco has on oral health.

A) Spain, one of the countries with the most smokers in Europe

22.3% of Spanish men smoke daily, compared to 16.4% of women according to the European Survey of Health in Spain carried out by the National Institute of Statistics in 2020. This percentage places us as one of the European countries where people smoke the most, a prominent position in a dangerous ranking. According to the WHO, tobacco causes more than 8 million deaths a year throughout the planet, in addition to being the main cause of diseases and other ailments that reduce the quality of life of those who smoke.

B) The risks of smoking in oral health

The mouth is the gateway for tobacco in our body, so many of these ailments manifest there. Oral cancer, periodontitis, halitosis, dry socket... are some of the possible consequences of this bad habit.

1) Oral cancer, one of the greatest risks of smoking

We speak of oral cancer when a malignant tumor develops in any of the structures of the mouth, such as the mucosa, the palate, the tongue, the lip, the gums or the bones. Cancer occurs when carcinogenic agents act on cells and alter their genetic material, producing a mutation. These damaged cells can divide and multiply excessively in the body. Although there are several factors that cause this disease, 8 out of 10 patients with oral cancer are regular smokers.

2) Tobacco and its relationship with periodontal disease

Periodontitis is a disease that affects the tissues around the teeth, such as the gums, bone and periodontal ligament. We speak of gingivitis when there is inflammation of the gum, but the bone is not damaged. On the contrary, if there is bone loss, we classify it as periodontitis, which can cause tooth loss in the most advanced cases. In fact, periodontitis is the first cause of tooth loss in adults, above cavities. Although periodontal disease has an important genetic factor, it can be accentuated by various factors such as tobacco. According to the NHANES study, smokers are four times more likely to develop it. In addition, tobacco can mask a warning sign of active periodontitis, such as bleeding and inflammation of the gums due to its vasoconstrictor effect.

3) Smokers have a higher risk of infections and worse healing

Nicotine causes a decrease in blood flow to the tissues and a lower supply of oxygen, thus reducing the amount of white blood cells that can fight possible infections. It is also proven that smokers tend to have a slower healing after oral surgeries.

After a dental extraction a clot is formed in the socket that promotes healing and regeneration of tissues after tooth extraction. However, in some cases this clot may not form or may not form correctly, causing a very painful infection known as dry socket or alveolitis. Tobacco is one of the main reasons why this healing does not occur correctly due to the vasoconstrictor effect of nicotine.

5) Do you have dental implants? Tobacco can cause your loss

Dental implants are titanium attachments that serve as "artificial roots" to anchor fixed dental prostheses. Although they do not usually cause problems, there is an inflammatory process that affects the tissues that surround a dental implant and that can cause its loss. Tobacco is one of the main risk factors for this infection called peri-implantitis.

6) Cigarettes cause xerostomia

Suffering from xerostomia or dry mouth, that is, having an inadequate flow of saliva, has many negative consequences on oral health. Saliva acts against pathogenic organisms and is a fundamental ally in the process of cleaning and protecting teeth and gums. However, tobacco causes dry mouth, which makes us more vulnerable to cavities and other pathogens.

7) Tooth decay

Dental caries is an infectious disease caused by bacteria in the mouth. Dental hygiene and having a correct flow of saliva is essential to control the development and activity of these bacteria, something that does not favor tobacco consumption.

8) Smoking causes halitosis

Halitosis is the condition of having bad breath. The lack of saliva is one of the main causes of this problem, but the smell of tobacco itself also accentuates it. In addition, tobacco irritates the mouth tissues and respiratory tract, which prevents proper oxygenation with its consequent effect on breath.

9) Stains and yellow teeth: a common problem among smokers

Maintaining the original color of the teeth requires exquisite dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. In the case of smokers, this need is even greater, since the nicotine and tar contained in cigarettes are deposited on the dental surface and can penetrate the dentinal tubules, staining and turning them yellow.

10) Fungi in the mouth and other lesions in the oral mucosa

Another of the negative consequences of smoking is that it alters the oral microflora, which favors the development of fungi in the mouth such as candidiasis or mucosal lesions such as pemphigus, leukoplakia or lichen planus, which in turn can have a risk of malignant causing oral cancer.

11) Skin effects

The effect that tobacco has on the appearance and health of the skin is well known, since its prolonged consumption causes premature aging. In addition, regular smokers can produce the so-called "barcode" that forms around the lips, especially the upper one. This is due to a folding of the epithelium of the lips that becomes wrinkled over time due to continued stimulation of the orbicularis muscle. This is the one we use in actions such as kissing, whistling or sucking the smoke from a cigarette.

12) Tobacco causes deterioration of taste and smell

The last consequence of tobacco that we would like to mention is that this bad habit also affects the sense of taste and smell. The action of tobacco limits the perception of smells and flavors according to a study by the American Dental Association (ADA).

C) How to reduce the consequences of tobacco on oral health

We would like to mention that smoking ALWAYS has negative consequences on oral health, regardless of the precautions and care taken by the addicted person. But some guidelines that can slightly control it can be followed.

1) If you smoke, increase your dental hygiene

Having good dental hygiene is essential for your oral health whatever your condition. However, greater care is even advised among smokers since tobacco favors the darkening of teeth, stains or the development of periodontitis. It is essential to brush your teeth properly after every meal with the proper technique and floss at least once a day.

2) Visit the dentist more often

We always recommend visiting the dentist at least once a year. However, tobacco affects oral health so much that it is even more important for smokers. These checkups can help detect disease and keep your mouth as healthy and clean as possible.

3) Keep hydrated

We have already mentioned that tobacco reduces the flow of saliva, something that seriously harms your oral health. For this reason, smokers are advised to stay especially hydrated by drinking more water than normal. The consumption of sugar-free gum or candies can also promote proper salivation.

4) Try to quit or reduce tobacco use

Tobacco is a very harmful habit for health no matter how good your dental hygiene is. For this reason, we can only encourage all smokers to quit or reduce it as much as possible, even knowing the difficulty involved.

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