Dental Health Article by Dr Emma - "A Smoker's Mouth"

Dental Health

My friend tells me that quitting smoking is easy. She's an expert, she's quit 5 or 6 times! I'm thankful that I never took up smoking, but then I can never truly understand how hard it is to quit. Different things motivate different people to stop smoking: their partner hates it, they have children, financial cost, or cosmetic reasons like stained teeth and fingers.

The biggest reason to quit, we all know, is health. Chronic lung disease, heart disease, and cancer are the big ones. A lot of people don't realise that smoking can also lead to tooth loss. There a lots of effects smoking has on the mouth, and none of them are good.

Let's start with the big C. Any part of the body exposed to tobacco smoke can become cancerous, so we're not just talking lung cancer. Lips, mouth, tongue, throat, larynx (voice box) and all the way down to the lungs are all potential areas for cancer to start. If you've become desensitised to the idea of getting lung cancer, have a think about life with half your tongue missing. That's if you're lucky, oral cancers are often not diagnosed until they are so advanced the patient is terminal. An oral cancer screening should be part of your regular dental check-up, so if you've ever smoked you have another good reason to visit your dentist regularly. 

Smoking reduces the amount of blood flow to the soft tissues of your mouth. This means a smoker's mouth is more prone to infection and won't heal as efficiently as a non-smoker. This has huge implications when it comes to the serious gum disease known as periodontitis. Smokers are up to 7 times more likely to experience periodontitis, which can ultimately lead to losing teeth.

From my experience, even when undergoing treatment periodontitis is far harder to control in a smoker than in a non-smoker. The good news is that quitting reduces the risk, but if you've ever been a regular smoker you'll still be at a higher risk than someone who has never smoked. The reduced healing capacity of a smoker's mouth also makes oral surgery such as extractions and implants riskier, with a higher chance of complications afterwards.

Smoking directly after an extraction can contribute to an extremely painful "dry socket", which is when the blood clot is lost from the hole where the tooth used to be. The jaw bone is left exposed, which is as painful as it sounds and requires urgent treatment. A smoker who has a dental implant done, (to replace a missing tooth or teeth), has a 50% higher risk of the implant failing than a non-smoker.

Not scared enough by the long-term oral health implications? Smoking can create a lack of saliva which reduces your ability to taste, while increasing your risk of bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. In the short term, smoking also stains your teeth brown, and is associated with a delightful condition known as "black hairy tongue".

It baffles me that some people think smoking makes them look sexy and appealing! Now that you're super motivated to quit the smokes, how do you go about it? There is an absolute tonne of support out there if you know where to look,. Check out the information at, talk to your GP, or talk to your dentist. It's never too late to make your mouth a healthier place by giving smoking the flick.

Dr Emma

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Important: This article is general advice only. For further advice or information on this topic, please consult your health professional.


Category: Dental Health

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