Studies over the past two decades conclude that whether you smoke cigarettes or cigars, you are more likely to develop periodontal (gum) disease than those who do not use any form of tobacco. To date, there is no other known risk factor that can match the strength of smoking in causing harm to the mouth. The major component and most active agent in tobacco is nicotine and this manifests its harmful effects by interfering with the inflammatory and immune responses, as well as undermining healing. Nicotine causes changes to the blood flow (vasoconstriction), immune cell function and connective tissue turnover which all contribute to major irreversible gum damage and loss of teeth.
The typical characteristic of smoking-associated periodontal disease is pocket formation around the teeth, jaw bone loss and eventually tooth loosening before teeth literally fall out or need extraction. It is well documented that smokers suffer from progressive gum disease and subsequent early loss of all their teeth compared to their non-smoker counterparts. Smokers may also be at a disadvantage for some corrective dental treatment such as dental implants.
For smokeless tobacco users, you are not out of harm’s way. Rather, you are at greater risk of suffering more severe and rapidly progressing periodontal disease as well as receding gums. In circumstances where gums recede to the point where the tooth roots are exposed, teeth may become susceptible to root cavities or sensitive to cold and touch. The chances of developing lethal oral cancer increase with both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use.
It is never too late to stop! While the cessation of tobacco use does not reverse the past effects of smoking, there is abundant evidence that the rate of gum and bone loss slows after patients quit smoking, and that their disease severity is intermediate to that of current and non-smokers. There is no doubt that your oral health will begin to improve once you have quit smoking, particularly when you attend regularly for routine dental examination and treatment. Periodontal disease is an infection that is not just a major cause of tooth loss, but is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and respiratory problems.
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