The picture-perfect smile is glamorously white, with a full collection of teeth and pink, healthy gums. For years, those glamorous smiles in movie and media were often framed by a cigarette, also thought of as glamorous for a time. The sad lie behind those images is that regular smoking is the enemy of white teeth and healthy smiles. As we approach World No Tobacco Day on the last day of May, it’s worth looking at what tobacco in any form can do to your oral health and considering how happy your teeth could be without tobacco to stress their health. Here are 4 ways tobacco can wreck your smile.
1. Tooth Staining
All tobacco use puts your teeth at greater risk for staining. A study from the UK published BMC Public Health looked specifically at tooth discoloration of smokers compared to non-smokers. Smokers reported having moderately or severely stained teeth at nearly twice the rate of non-smokers. Smokeless tobacco is highly correlated to stained teeth. A study from India, where smokeless tobacco is widespread, documented the highly staining nature in addition to its numerous other detrimental effects on oral health.
2. More Cavities (caries)
If you have any illusion that chewing tobacco is easier on your health than smoking tobacco, the science is not on your side. Among American men, those who use chewing tobacco have more cavities than those who use smoking tobacco or who are never-tobacco users. Chewing tobacco is often mixed with sugars, increasing the other risks to tooth health that accompany tobacco use. Smoking is often considered part of a cluster of caries linked behaviors like poor oral care habits, unhealthy eating habits, and limited dental care. Worse still, environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke) is linked to greater caries risk in children. Just being around tobacco users can cause harm to young non-tobacco users.
3. Gum Disease
Smoking increases your vulnerability to gum disease. Gum disease does more than making your gums red and puffy. Untreated, it can lead to bone loss. When the bones are gone and the gums recede, there’s nothing left for the teeth to be rooted in. The teeth, inevitably, fall out when this happens. Tobacco use of any kind also suppresses your immune system, so any infections that develop in your mouth are harder to fight off. Tobacco users also tend not to respond as well as non-users to the treatments for gum disease. If you develop gum disease, it’s best to quit during and following treatment for gum disease to give your body the very best chance to heal.
4. Oral-Pharyngeal Cancers
Cancer of the mouth and pharynx (throat) is the 6th most common type of cancer in the world. Men are more likely to develop this type of cancer. Tobacco use, alcohol use, and poor diet are believed to account for more than 90% of mouth and throat cancer. Smokeless tobacco elevates the risk for cancers like smoking does. Treating oral cancer is possible when caught early, but people who smoke frequently avoid regular dental visits. When these cancers are caught late, treatment can be disfiguring and involved. Less tobacco use could spare many people the pain of mouth and throat cancers.
The real glamour of tobacco, we now know, is in avoiding tobacco use. For the sake of your teeth and for the sake of your smile, use World No Tobacco Day this year as an opportunity to recommit to avoiding tobacco or to give up tobacco use once and for all. If you need help, you can find resources from the CDC, or talk to your doctor or dentist for help closer to home.