Smoking stinks, but you already knew that. Yet despite a thousand red flags, every single day, about 3,200 kids and teens pick up a cigarette for the first time. And this would probably not be the last. Whether it is in a futile attempt to look “cool” or because of a deeply-rooted issue that commands an escape, young adults who smoke early on tend to follow through with this practice for a long time.
No matter what the reason may be, this small roll of tobacco and this treacherous habit is fraught with unwarranted consequences. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of early disease and death in the United States. But why aren’t more people eager to give this deathly habit up? Smoking is a hard habit to break, mainly because tobacco contains the very addictive chemical nicotine.
How Does Your Body React to Nicotine?
Nicotine is the drug found in tobacco that causes dependence. As with other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly get accustomed to this substance, and soon, the abuser needs to have it just to feel normal.
Every smoker is addicted to a different combination of the “stimulants” in cigarettes. This allows each individual to have a unique experience with smoking and nicotine dependence, making the process of quitting that much more difficult. Studies have found that nicotine is equally as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.
How Does Tobacco Affect Your Oral Health?
Most people are aware of the harmful effects of smoking on their general health but aren’t in the loop of what this practice can do to their teeth and gums. Here are four compelling reasons why you should quit smoking immediately if you want to keep your mouth free of disease!
- Creates plaque and tartar
Chemicals in tobacco products can interrupt the production and flow of saliva in the mouth, making it easier for oral bacteria to cling to the teeth and gums. Soon, this aggregation of bacteria forms a film-like substance on the tooth surfaces and along the gum line called plaque. If not removed daily, this plaque can harden into tartar or calculus, a substance that is so hard that it requires professional cleaning to remove.
- Causes gum disease
Plaque accumulation is one of the major causes of gum disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can result in gingivitis - a form of gum infection characterized by swollen, reddened, tender, and easily bleeding gums. At this stage, gingivitis can be successfully reversed with the help of proper oral hygiene and the cessation of detrimental habits like smoking.
Upon failure of adequate care, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis - a condition that affects the teeth, surrounding soft tissues, and even the bones that anchor the teeth in place. Smokers are three to six times more likely to develop periodontal disease than individuals who do not smoke.
- Lowers your immunity
Nicotine in cigarettes disrupts normal blood circulation. This can affect the normal function of the gum tissue and can raise the chances of infections. It makes it more difficult for your body to fight off infections, which in turn results in delayed healing of open wounds especially after oral surgeries such as extractions of teeth, dental implants, and other cleaning procedures.
Furthermore, smoking restricts blood circulation to the gums and affects the normal function of the gum tissue. It worsens gum disease. Diseases like pneumonia, TB, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis are all worsened by smoking.
- Causes cancer
According to multiple sources, almost 80% of the total number of people who have developed oral cancer have had a history of prolonged smoking. You are 6 to 7 times more likely to develop oral or throat cancer if you are a repeated smoker. This can happen because the toxic by-products in cigarette smoke can weaken the body’s immune system, making it harder for your body to fight cancer cells.
- Changes your teeth and breath
Smoking can change the way your teeth look, giving them the classic “smoker’s teeth” - yellow, unappealing to look at, and greatly damaged. Due to the tartar deposits in your mouth, you may also start experiencing bad breath and an altered sense of taste if you continue smoking.
What Can You Do?
If you smoke or use tobacco products, you can significantly reduce the strain you put on your oral health by simply quitting. However, it’s easier said than done. Your dentist can put you on a tobacco cessation treatment course to help you quit with minimal chance of relapse. While you continue on the path to sobriety, you should also do your part in taking care of your oral health.
The American Dental Association recommends all individuals brush twice a day with fluoride-enriched toothpaste and floss once a day. Schedule regular appointments with your dentist and get professional checkups and cleanings done. Research shows that smokers who cut back to less than half a pack a day only had three times the risk for developing gum disease as non-smokers. It only takes a step in the right direction! Are you starting today?
--- By Dr. Nandita Rana I The Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) from Sharda University.