Some of the direct effects of smoking on oral health are obvious and may seem minor. Bad breath, tooth discolouration, and buildup of plaque & tartar on the teeth are common problems for smokers that can often be controlled through regularly scheduled visits with dental professionals.
Unfortunately for smokers, even these seemingly small problems are commonly symptoms of much bigger problems. Bad breath and buildups of plaque or tartar can actually be symptoms of more serious problems like gum disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking escalates dental issues. And with more than one quarter of Canadians not even visiting the dentist once a year (twice a year being recommended), smokers may be too late if they wait for their next scheduled checkup to address these issues.
In some cases, such as gum disease or leukoplakia, it can actually be fatal to avoid getting emergency dental care. Smoking is not only a root cause for many dental problems, but it is also responsible for escalating them and preventing proper healing.
Here are a few dental problems frequently caused by smoking:
- gum disease
- tooth discolouration
- plaque & tartar buildup
- jawbone loss
- periodontal gum disease
- oral cancer
- inflamed salivary gland
- receding gums
- loose or lost teeth.
Symptoms such as bad breath, tooth discolouration, and plaque/tartar buildup can often be managed effectively. However, many of the other issues can lead to surgery, permanent, irreversible damage or even death.
In the past, pipe and cigar smokers have claimed they are less at risk than cigarette smokers. Studies by the Canadian government have consistently determined that, “Cigar and pipe smokers experience the same types of health problems as cigarette smokers.” So, regardless of how you smoke, it is a good idea to contact an emergency dentist in Yorkville at the first sign of any problems.
Potentially fatal smoking caused/related dental problems
In most cases, the risk of fatality is greatly reduced by receiving emergency dental services early on. Often, catching these concerns early can even prevent the need for surgery. The extending recovery time caused by smoking makes it even more important for smokers to contact an emergency dentist immediately.
Many of the dental issues listed above can be symptoms of periodontal gum disease, or precursors. Many people confuse gum inflammation (gingivitis) with gum disease. Gingivitis is not as severe as gum disease and the problems are often not permanent. Smoking can have a significant effect upon gingivitis, preventing recovery, and can even cause the gum inflammation to progress to gum disease.
According to WebMD, some of the symptoms of gum disease include:
- bleeding gums (when brushing)
- red, swollen, or tender gums
- persistent bad breath
- loose teeth/tooth
- receding gums.
Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. In addition to tooth loss, advanced gum disease can lead to irreversible damage to bones, tissue, or teeth. The American Academy of Periodontology has uncovered strong links between gum disease and osteoporosis, respiratory disease, and cancer.
Men with gum disease were found to be twice as likely to develop kidney cancer, more than twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and a third more likely to develop blood cancer. Gum disease has also been associated with strokes, heart disease, and diabetes.
The ability of periodontal gum disease to progress into these serious conditions makes it a potentially fatal disease, if left untreated. Getting immediate treatment is the best way to prevent or discover complications resulting from gum disease.
Smoking’s Effect On Gum Disease
Smoking reduces your body’s ability to fight infection. So once a problem begins to develop it is harder for a smoker’s gums to heal. According to the Center for Disease Control, smokers are 200% more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers, and treatment is less effective – especially if delayed. This makes it extra important for smokers to contact an emergency dentist at the first sign of gum disease.
Leukoplakia is a condition that is most common among smokers because smoking not only exacerbates other causes, but also can be the cause itself. Leukoplakia is a condition where a patch of grey or white appears on the cheek, tongue, gums, or floor of the mouth. The patches may feel raised, rough, or hardened. These are often painful or sensitive to the touch and can be easily irritated by spicy foods or hot/cold temperatures. If you are among the 12% of Canadians experiencing ongoing mouth pain every year, consider visiting an emergency dental clinic near you to assess if leukoplakia is the cause.
At the first appearance of white or grey patches in the mouth, you need to contact an emergency dental service immediately. Leukoplakia is often a symptom of cancer. Even if it appears that there may be another cause for the leukoplakia, your emergency dentist will biopsy the lesion. As is often the case, the rate of survivability for mouth cancer is significantly higher when caught early.
If the biopsy comes back negative and other potential causes are addressed, such as a sharp tooth or bone rubbing against the affected area, it is possible that the patches may disappear on their own. However, for smokers this is not likely the case as the act of smoking prevents the mouth from healing. You may need to consult your emergency dentist for other therapies or find a way to quit, at least temporarily.
Mouth and throat cancer
Any form of tobacco has severe potential to result in mouth and throat cancer. Contrary to common misconceptions, smoking from a pipe is not any safer than cigarettes, and even smokeless alternatives like chewing tobacco can cause mouth and throat cancer. If you smoke or use smokeless alternatives to smoking, you should keep an eye out for symptoms.
Some symptoms of mouth & throat cancer include:
- a lump in the mouth or throat area
- sores, bleeding, numbness, sore throat or pain that does not go away
- difficulty swallowing
- swelling of the mouth or throat.
If you are a smoker or former smoker, you need to be especially alert for these symptoms. At the first sign or suspicion of mouth or throat cancer, alert your emergency dentist in Yorkville as early as possible to improve the likelihood of overcoming oral cancer. Your emergency dentist is trained in recognizing potential symptoms and may be able to rule out symptoms, refer you to an oncologist, or even perform a biopsy.
Emergency dentists want to preserve your healthy, beautiful smile
High-risk activity like smoking means you always have to be extra aware of any potential symptoms of dental and oral conditions, diseases, and complications. Symptoms and their underlying causes can escalate quickly as a result of continued smoking, so leaving problems untreated puts you at great risk. Prevent irreversible damage by contacting our practice today.
Yours in excellent dental health,
Dr. Judy Sturm, your emergency dentist in Yorkville