The effects of smoking on your oral health

Dental Hygienist at Bupa UK
15 July 2016
Young couple smiling

Everyone knows that smoking causes serious health problems, but many of us overlook the noticeable and harmful effects it has on our mouth and teeth. As a hygienist, I meet lots of people who are having trouble with the teeth and gums and they’re not always aware that smoking could be the root of the problem.

You might think you have the best oral health routine in the world. But if you’re a smoker and you’ve noticed your tongue is a funny colour, or you’re battling with bad breath, it’s time to consider that smoking could be the cause...

Mouth cancer

You will be well aware that smoking causes lung cancer, but it causes mouth cancer too. Experts estimate that more than nine in 10 mouth cancers are caused by tobacco use. All types of tobacco can cause oral cancer, including cancer of your mouth, lips, tongue, gums, the tissues on the inside of your mouth, and throat.

Gum disease and tooth loss

Smoking increases your risk of developing gum disease because it increases the amount of bacterial plaque in your mouth. Also, the nicotine tightens the blood vessels in your body, reducing the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. As a result your inflamed gums can’t heal. As this continues, the bacteria damage the bone, breaking it down around the teeth. If this happens, your teeth can become mobile and move about. If it’s really bad, your teeth can even fall out.

A stained smile

The harmful chemicals in cigarettes, such as nicotine and tar, cause staining to the surfaces of your teeth. Tiny micro pores on the surface of your teeth suck in the harmful chemicals, which causes the staining. The staining can range from yellow to brown in colour. It can even be a darker, black colour if you use pipes or cigars, or chew tobacco products. It’s most noticeable on your front teeth when you smile. It’s very difficult to remove staining at home.

Bad breath

The increased amount of bacteria in your mouth caused by smoking means that you might have bad breath. The bacteria produce and release harmful and unpleasant gases (such as volatile sulphur compounds) into your mouth, causing the bad smell.

Brushing your teeth twice a day and cleaning in between your teeth can help to manage the amount of bacteria in your mouth.

A hairy looking tongue

Bacteria can also build up on your tongue, giving it a hairy and mustard-coloured appearance. Using a toothbrush or tongue scraper can help to remove the bacteria to some extent.

Impaired sense of taste

When you smoke, it alters the shape of your taste buds and often leads to a loss of taste sensation. Think of all the delicious tastes you might be missing out on. There is good news though – if you quit, your sense of taste should start to come back after just two days.

Are you ready to quit?

Quitting smoking is the best thing you will ever do, for your health, your family and your money. And it’s not something you have to do alone. There are now many resources and professionals who can help you to take that first step toward quitting. But don’t forget to give yourself credit too – if you’re reading this and want to quit, that’s the first hurdle over.

Evidence shows that medicines such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) double your chance of quitting successfully. And combining medicine with support services increases your chance of success even more.

The NHS stop smoking service is a fantastic tool that millions of people have found really helpful. You can register on the SmokeFree NHS website for more information.

Your dental professional can also give you support and advice when you have a dental check-up or dental hygienist visit.

Sakina Syed
Dental Hygienist at Bupa UK

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