We all know that smoking is bad for our health, but what about using other tobacco products? People can smoke, chew, or sniff tobacco – and all of them can affect your oral health.
Smoking and tobacco use can lead to more serious oral health complications as well, including gum disease and oral cancer.
“You can get yellow teeth [and] a yellow tongue,” says Thomas Kilgore, DMD, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and associate dean at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “You see a lot of staining on the tongue.”
The most serious issue for tobacco users is oral cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 90 percent of people with oral cancer (cancer affecting the lips, tongue, throat, and mouth) have used tobacco in some form.
“The most serious issue is mouth cancer,” Dr. Kilgore says. “It’s hard to say what percentage of people who smoke will get mouth cancer, but the death rate of those who do get it is high — between 40 and 50 percent of all cases, and that hasn’t changed over the last few decades.”
What Kind of Damage does Smoking Cause?
“Smoking cigarettes doesn’t cause dental decay, but it does cause periodontal, or gum, disease,” Kilgore explains. “Bone loss is part of periodontal disease. It starts out as inflammation of the gums. In the natural and unfortunate progression, the bone supporting the roots of your teeth becomes inflamed,” and then the underlying bone can deteriorate, he adds.
Without proper treatment, gum disease does eventually lead to tooth loss and jawbone damage. One study found that smoking was associated with more than 50 percent of periodontal disease cases.
Tobacco is not Safe for Your Mouth
People often think that different forms of tobacco are “safer” than others. However, says Kilgore, “Tobacco in any form has risks. It’s hard to figure out which is worse” — when tobacco is chewed, smoked, or inhaled.
The best bet is to stay away from all forms of tobacco. Studies show that people using smokeless tobacco like chewing tobacco are are 4-6 times more likely to develop oral cancer than a person who doesn’t use tobacco at all.
Tobacco use “is a tremendously addictive habit, so in the meantime, regular dental visits can help with early detection” of gum disease and precancerous mouth sores, Kilgore says. He adds that the people at greatest risk for oral cancer are chronic smokers who don’t visit their dentists regularly.
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