The Shocking and Disgusting Truth About Smoking and Oral Health
We don’t need to tell you that smoking is bad for you. The government, your doctor, and your friends and family do a good enough job of that. But what you might not know is that the damage isn’t limited to your lungs, heart, and other essential organs. Smokers also suffer far more dental health problems than non-smokers and this is as true for denture-wearers as it is for people who have all of their real teeth.
Whether you’re a denture wearer concerned about your smoking habit or someone who has a few teeth left and wants to hold onto them, you need to rethink those cigarettes, as they could be putting you on course for some serious oral health problems.
Just take a look at these facts and statistics concerning smokers, tooth loss, and dentures.
Smoking and Tooth Loss
As a smoker, you are significantly more likely to suffer from dental health problems. A smoker can expect to spend more money on dental care, have more problems, and suffer from serious complications. All the “smoker’s toothpaste” in the world won’t help you here and if you continue to smoke, you’re always fighting a losing battle.
It’s Not All About Stains
We mentioned smoker’s toothpaste above. It’s often purchased by smokers in the hope that it can reverse the damage caused by smoking. It can work, but it’s akin to patching a sinking boat using Scotch Tape.
Smoker’s toothpaste isn’t that different from standard toothpaste products. They often use high levels of fluoride to protect and strengthen the teeth, along with strong abrasives to remove the plaque. Smoking can stain your teeth and a strong abrasive paste will help to remove those stains, but that’s only part of the problem and it’s arguably the most insignificant one.
Firstly, no amount of scrubbing will remove the tartar that has hardened on the teeth. Only your dentist can do that. It’s why your teeth remain yellow or stained even if you spend 10 minutes scrubbing them with a strong whitening toothpaste.
Secondly, it doesn’t attack the root of the problem, which is that smoking is not just about stains.
Smoking restricts blood flow to the gums, preventing them from properly healing themselves and greatly increasing the risk of gum disease and a host of other problems. They will bleed more, become more inflamed, and it will take much longer for lesions and other oral health problems to heal. Decay will also run rampant, and part of the reason that smokers have black teeth is that decay has set in and started to do its thing.
Of course, staining is a big issue as well, and it’s even more important for smokers to clean their teeth at least twice a day and for at least two minutes at a time. You don’t really need toothpaste for this, though, and a strong fluoride paste should be more than enough.
Smokers Lose More Teeth
Statistically, smokers lose more teeth than non-smokers. After what we learned about healing limitations and gum disease above, it should come as no surprise, but the numbers might still shock you.
Male smokers are a massive 360% more likely to lose their teeth than non-smokers while female smokers, who tend to be more committed to oral health, are 250% more likely. Those numbers are huge and it means that you are constantly fighting a losing battle when it comes to major tooth loss.
A study published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research also looked into this subject and found that the percentage of people with no teeth was just 2.63% for people aged between 35 and 49 but this jumped to a little over 10% for people aged 50 to 64. The rate for smokers, which covers all age groups, is an astonishing 7.79% and this drops to 3.57% for a former smoker.
For individuals who have never smoked, the rate of complete edentulism is a very low 1.55%. It shows you just how much more likely you are to lose all of your teeth as a smoker, but it’s also proof that stopping smoking makes a massive difference. Just because you have smoked for 10, 20, or even 30 years doesn’t mean that the damage has already been done. You can still save a lot of your teeth by stubbing out those cigarettes.
Smokers are More Likely to Wear Dentures
The odds of you needing dentures at some point in your life are much greater if you smoke. Furthermore, the likelihood increases for every year that you smoke. As you age, and other problems are added to the mix (including cancer risk, dehydration, medications, and pre-existing illnesses) avoiding dentures will seem like a near impossibility.
If you care about your oral health and you want to avoid dentures, you need to stop smoking!
Surprisingly, it seems that oral health problems and the risk of tooth loss are more likely to convince some people to stop than lung cancer and heart disease. Many also stop because they can’t afford to smoke anymore or because smoking bans have made it inconvenient for them.
Smoking and Dentures
So, you have smoked all or most of your life, you have lost your teeth, and now you’re a denture wearer. The good news is that dentures aren’t that bad and they are infinitely better than having a mouth full of rotten teeth or having no teeth whatsoever. The bad news is that your problems aren’t over and if you continue to smoke, then you will continue to experience issues with your oral health.
Many first-time denture wearers assume that everything is plain sailing after they are fitted for dentures. They assume that they don’t need to visit the dentist and can drop their dental hygiene routine altogether. But you still need to rinse out your mouth, lightly brush your gums, and clean your dentures. You still need to visit the dentist when you notice an issue and, as the following shows, there are still many ways that smoking can seriously impact your oral health.
You Are Still at Risk of Oral Cancers
Smokers are 10 times more likely to develop oral cancers than non-smokers. It’s not just oral cancer, either, as the risk of at least a dozen types of cancer increases with every cigarette that you smoke. It makes sense—cigarettes contain over 60 known carcinogens.
Think about all the effort you expend to avoid harmful cancer-causing chemicals in food and packaging. You stress about a single carcinogen in a common medication, drink, or food, and at the same time, you’re willingly ingesting something that contains dozens of known carcinogens and will probably kill you one day.
Men are more than twice as likely to develop oral cancers than women and the risk also increases with age. There are other risk factors as well, including alcohol consumption, UV light, diet, and chewing tobacco, but smoking is by far the biggest and the most concerning.
The Risk of Gum Disease is Substantial
You don’t need teeth to suffer from gum disease. As long as you have gums and allow bacteria to grow, you are at risk of gum disease and all of the problems that go along with it. Gum disease will leave you with bad breath, bleeding gums, and inflammation. It’s sore, uncomfortable, and it can make life very difficult as a denture wearer.
If gum disease is allowed to spread and goes untreated, it can cause serious and irreversible damage. Your gums will recede and, once that happens, your dentures won’t fit as well as they could or should.
Smoking prevents your mouth from healing as quickly as it should, limiting the blood flow and encouraging bacterial growth. People who have lost all of their teeth also tend to be a bit laxer with their oral health, thus stoking the flames and creating the perfect storm for gum disease.
The Rate of Bone Loss Increases
When your jawbone doesn’t have any teeth to support, it is gradually absorbed by the body and begins to shrink. Your dentures lose their perfect fit and your options for future treatments are also reduced. For example, implant-supported dentures need to have some bone remaining for them to take, and if there’s not enough, your dentist may recommend a bone graft or advise against implant-supported dentures altogether.
Just because you’re wearing dentures now doesn’t mean that it is the end of the line and you don’t have many options. You could still transition to implant-supported dentures in the future if you find that you can’t get a snug fit. There are other options available as well, and even if you discount them, it’s still important to retain as much of your jawbone as you can.
Bone loss will occur regardless of whether you smoke or not, but smoking hastens that process considerably.
You Can Stain Your Dentures
Smoking doesn’t just stain your teeth; it also stains your dentures. The fake teeth and the base can become discolored and you can’t just reach for the whitening toothpaste or bleaching kits when this happens. There are ways to clean those dentures and you can discuss these options with your dentist, but if you keep smoking and those stains remain, you may need an entirely new set of dentures.
Speak to your dentist about your options and make sure you approach them at the first sign of trouble. The sooner you let them know, the easier and more effective those fixes will be.
Whatever you do, don’t try whitening your dentures yourself and don’t use whitening toothpaste or whitening strips on them, either. These solutions are designed to work on enamel and dentin and they don’t have the same effect on acrylic bases and fake teeth.
You May Suffer From Bad Breath
Smokers suffer from bad breath more frequently than non-smokers and it also tends to be more severe.
Firstly, the cigarettes themselves can leave a foul smell on your breath. You may not be able to smell it, but it’s definitely there. It’s a stale and ashy smell, not unlike an ashtray, and it’s far from pleasant. Your sense of smell and taste is gradually reduced when you smoke, so you don’t always detect it in yourself and may not notice it in other smokers, either. To someone who doesn’t smoke and isn’t around cigarettes all day, the smell is very pronounced.
Smoking dries you out. Your body needs saliva to hydrate, moisten, and protect, and when you take that away and leave an ashy and smokey fragrance in its place that smell gradually festers and progresses into an extremely sour and putrid breath that can knock someone out at 10 paces!
If you drink a lot of alcohol or take medications that trigger bad breath (including opioids, which are a leading cause of bad breath) then that problem will be intensified. You can’t always fix it with a little mouthwash, either, as mouthwash is often full of alcohol and while it will freshen your mouth in the short term it will dry it out in the long term.
Gum disease is another leading cause of bad breath and is caused by a build-up of bacteria.
It Could Change the Shape of Your Dentures
Smoking hardens your gums. It’s your body’s way of protecting against the harsh smoke, as well as a reaction to the effects of nicotine. They will also shrink and recede. It’s why you can often see the lower parts of the teeth of long-term smokers, as the gums have receded to the point where they no longer cover the whole of the tooth, making it loose.
Not only does it increase the risk of tooth loss, but the recession will cause your gums to shrink under your dentures, thus affecting the fit. Dentures are designed to fit snugly over your gums. They are molded around the shape of your gums and mouth at the moment they are fitted, but if you keep smoking, your gums will shrink, your mouth will change shape, and that fit won’t be as snug as it was.
That’s not the only problem, either. If you stop smoking after you have been fitted for dentures, those hard gums will soften and expand, which means the dentures will be tighter than they should be. At this point, the dentures may start to irritate your gums and cause bleeding, which means your dentist will need to realign them.
Of course, that’s a minor issue when you consider how much damage you will be doing if you don’t stop smoking. So, don’t use that as an excuse to keep toking away and make sure you stop as soon as you are able!
It Will Make Your Gums Sore
Smoking can irritate your gums and dry your mouth. If your mouth is dry and your gums are inflamed, they won’t have the protection they need and your dentures will rub them, irritate them, and even cause wounds and further inflammation.
As noted above, these problems will intensify if you stop smoking and you may find that your dentures become unbearable for several weeks after you have stopped.
It’s important to stop smoking as soon as you can, and ideally, it should be before you are fitted for dentures. That way, you don’t have to worry about your gums changing shape and affecting your dentures and you can avoid the painful complications that arise from such issues.
Summary: Stop Smoking
The only sensible conclusion is that you need to stop smoking and do it sooner rather than later. You will be making life easier for yourself and your dentist. It will reduce your chances of ever needing to wear dentures and it will also make sure those dentures fit better and cause fewer problems. What’s more, stopping smoking will provide the following benefits to your overall health:
- Greatly reduced risk of heart disease (along with strokes and heart attacks)
- Fewer lung problems like COPD
- Benefits the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies
- Lowered risk of dying from cancer and other serious diseases
- Could add 10 years to your life
- No yellowed fingers
- No stale odors in your home or on your clothes and hair
- Lots of extra money in your pocket every month
- More stamina and endurance, ensuring you’re not out of breath just because you climbed the stairs!
By quitting, you will also be saving yourself a lot of money in healthcare costs. You will need to book a lot more appointments with your doctor, arrange for many more tests with the local hospital, and spend much more on basic treatments, medications, and more. If you’re one of the many unfortunate smokers who develops cancer or heart disease, you could find yourself with life-changing medical bills, at which point it’s not just the health issues that you have to worry about.
Smoking cessation can begin with your doctor, though. Contact them, let them know that you are ready to stop, and they can provide you with the resources that you need to kick your habit and improve your life.