Imagine buying a new tube of toothpaste and squirting the following out onto your toothbrush: Tar, acetone, cyanide, lead, formaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic, butane, chloroform, carbon monoxide and nicotine. Would you brush your teeth with this vile mixture? Of course not! Yet every day, millions of Americans inhale mouthfuls of these chemicals every time they light up a cigarette. Naturally, this has profound consequences on their teeth.
Let’s talk about some of the effects that smoking has on teeth:
A dingy yellow smile: That’s right—one of the most obvious consequences of smoking is yellowing of teeth. The yellowing occurs as cigarette smoke increases the growth of bacteria in plaque.
Damage to gums, bones and teeth: Because bacteria build up faster in a smoker’s mouth, gums recede faster, teeth crumble faster and even the bone below the gum line can be damaged.
Missing teeth: For serious smokers, the damage to gums and teeth can continue until some or all of their teeth fall out.
Bad breath: That’s right, smoking causes bad breath, too. All of those bacteria living in the plaque can kick up a real stink.
Related health issues: Studies have shown that dental decay due to smoking can contribute to heart disease and other health problems. Some smokers must go so far as to have all of their teeth removed and replaced with dentures. Smoking also leads to oral cancer and lesions in the mouth.
All of that is scary stuff, but there is hope for smokers. What can they do to slow down and prevent tooth decay?
Switching doesn’t help. Contrary to urban legend, switching to cigars or pipes has not been shown to reduce tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco (i.e. chewing tobacco) also has profound consequences for health, and switching to “non-tar” or “low-tar” cigarettes won’t make any difference either.
Quit, if you can. The best way to prevent tooth decay from smoking is to quit smoking as soon as possible.
If you can’t quit, cut back. Even a small step can make a big difference. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Smokers who smoked less than half a pack per day were almost three times more likely than nonsmokers to have periodontitis. Those who smoked more than a pack and a half per day had almost six times the risk.” This makes sense; the fewer nasty chemicals you inhale, the less damage they do to your body.
If you can’t cut back yet, practice good hygiene anyway. If cutting back isn’t an option, try cleaning your teeth thoroughly every day. This includes brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash. Experts suggest that a fresh, clean mouth will feel so nice that you’ll be less tempted to pollute with smoking.
A dentist can help. Of course, your dentist can’t help you quit smoking, but once you have stopped poisoning yourself, your dentist or periodontist can help you correct some of the damage. Your teeth can be thoroughly cleaned, and damage to your gums can often be addressed through surgery. Stained teeth can be whitened and severely stained teeth can be capped. If you’ve already lost a few teeth due to cigarettes, you can have them replaced with false teeth using a bridge.
The bottom line is that even organic cigarettes are hazardous to your health because the worst of the chemicals are created during the refining and smoking processes. If you can quit or cut back, now is the time to do so. Your teeth will thank you for it.