Everyone who smokes is aware of the health risks associated with their habit (the graphic images on the packaging leave little to the imagination); however, some people don’t know of the potentially long-term dental issues that can occur.

Not only is smoking associated with bad breath and discoloured, stained teeth that don’t respond to whitening but there is also an increased risk of developing gum (periodontal) disease in smokers.

A major problem with smoking is that it tends the disguise the damage taking place to teeth and gums. Usually, infected gums are red, puffy and bleed when they are brushed. Smoker’s gums are not like this – they are pale and thin and do not bleed as easily, so the early signs of gum inflammation go unnoticed!
The nicotine in cigarette smoke acts on the blood vessels causing them to contract. This contraction causes a reduction in the blood supply to the gums and bone and does two things:
It masks the signs of disease and reduces the body’s ability to combat disease and infection
Nicotine also affects your saliva and reduces the way that it can protect the teeth. This change in saliva is why some heavy smokers can get decay even though they may be brushing and flossing effectively.

Gum (periodontal) disease

Smokers are six (6) times more likely to have severe gum (periodontal disease) than non-smokers. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammation that causes progressive destruction of the bone and gum tissues that support and “hold in” the teeth. Every individual progresses differently, but if left untreated it can result in pain, infection and the teeth loosening. The teeth may become so loose or painful that they require extraction.
In non-smokers, periodontal disease is most often painless, only becoming aware of the problem when it becomes more advanced. In smokers the warning signs like bleeding gums are disguised as well, so the condition can become quite advanced before there is any indication that anything is going wrong. Gum disease is challenging to treat in smokers as smoking reduces the body’s ability to heal.

Oral Cancer

Young adults who smoke and drink alcohol also increase their risk of developing oral cancer by 15 times. Oral cancer has recently featured in the media with the high profile struggle of actor Michael Douglas, husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Every day three (3) Australians are diagnosed with oral cancer and more than 80% smoke cigarettes.
Heavy drinking, which is defined as more than four (4) standard drinks per occasion, in combination with smoking also dramatically increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
The good news is that with treatment and technological advances early detection can mean a 90% chance of survival, with most abnormalities detected during routine dental visits. Of course, decreasing your risk by not smoking is always a better option!