Effect of Tobacco on Oral Health

Despite the astounding popularity of the product, cigarettes, as we all know, entail serious health consequences. On top of being a leading cause of various cancers, tobacco is a leading cause of chronic diseases including stroke, heart disease, blindness and asthma. Did you know that of the nearly 5000 chemicals found in cigarettes, 69 of them are proven to cause cancer?  Smoking cigarettes can lead to oral cancers such as tongue cancer and also cancer of the throat and cancer of the esophagus.  While most oral cancers are treatable if they are caught early, they usually involve surgery to remove small tumors or radiation treatments to kill cancerous cells. But if left untreated, the tumors can develop into cancer or it can spread to lymph nodes and become even more serious.  Which is why it is extremely important if you are a smoker to have regular dental check-ups since any signs of oral cancer can usually be detected by a dentist.

As if that is not scary enough, and a good reason to quit smoking or using tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, there’s more.  Even if it doesn’t kill you right away, smoking can lead to Periodontal Disease or gum disease.  This is when a person’s gums become infected with bacteria.  If left untreated, the infection can cause extreme damage to the root system of the teeth and even the jawbone.  Eventually, the teeth can become so loose that they have to be pulled.  It has been estimated that smoking is the cause of up to 50 percent of cases of gum disease.  Can you imagine having no teeth?  Say goodbye to enjoying food!

Even if the smoker is lucky enough to avoid gum disease, they are still at risk for as much as three times the amount of cavities in their lifetime as the average person.  Again, with the amount of chemicals and bacteria introduced into the mouth when a person is smoking or chewing tobacco, the teeth become under attack and become much more susceptible to cavities and tooth decay.

There are other rarer, but still very serious oral health problems that can develop from smoking such as inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth.  When the glands become inflamed they cannot produce the saliva necessary for oral health.  This is part of what leads to the dry mouth and bad breath of smokers.

Another problem caused by smoking is increased risk of leukoplakia that causes white patches inside the mouth.  This is an irritation or the mucous membranes in the mouth.  These white patches can sometimes become cancerous as well.

From a MedEq perspective, it is important that we not only narrow in on narrowing oral health disparities, such as lack of access to dental care and supplies, but also promoting healthy choices such as not smoking in order to alleviate the growth of gum disease and oral cancers. 

Feel free to comment below with any questions or ideas for combating this issue!

References: 

"Smoking and Dental Health." WebMD, 14 May 22. Web. 

"Tobacco Use and Oral Health." - Delta Dental. 9 Jan. 2013. Web

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