DID YOU KNOW that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States? Here in Chattanooga, TN we have some of the highest concentrations of smoking in the country. It’s well known that smoking can lead to a number of lung-related diseases but in reality, the negative effects of smoking can be seen in almost every part of the body, especially the mouth.
In fact smoking and it’s health complications hit close to home for Dr. Mark and Dr. Ellen McOmie. The Buz Standefer Lung Center at Memorial Hospital is named after Dr. Ellen’s father. He smoked most of his life and passed away from Stage 4 lung cancer. Since his death the family has been working to help people quit smoking and get the treatment they need early to save their life. If you are smoking we want you to quit, in fact we want to help you quit!
Smoking Compromises Your Oral Health
Among other cancers, smoking puts you at a much higher risk of developing oral cancer. In fact, approximately eight out of 10 patients with oral cancer are smokers. Smoking remains the biggest controllable risk factor for this deadly disease.
Tobacco use is also related to severe gum disease. Because smoking weakens your body’s ability to fight infection, bacteria build up more easily in your mouth in the form of plaque and tartar. Bacteria in plaque irritate the gums and cause them to pull away from your teeth, resulting in bleeding and sensitivity. This can ultimately lead to tooth and bone loss. Those who smoke are two times more likely to develop gum disease than a nonsmoker.
We have many patients who have had oral cancer and are surviving. We had one after his treatment he grew hair in his mouth. This was from a skin graft that was from his leg into his mouth. The skin still grew hair. He would come in once a month to have his “hair cut” as he put it. Dr. Mark had special scissors to cut the hair in his mouth. The patient has passed away now but Dr. Mark says ” I wish I could show young people using tobacco the inside of his mouth and let them see the hair that grows there. I think it would help see the reality of what happens with tobacco use. I think it would make young people reconsider a decision to start using tobacco.”
Other dental problems that can be caused by smoking include:
- Bad breath
- Tooth discoloration, staining of the teeth
- Coated or black hairy tongue
- Tooth decay
- Dulled sense of taste and smell
- Dry mouth
- Slowed healing after tooth extraction or other surgery
- Lower success rate of cosmetic dental procedures
Watch the video below to see how smoking affected Brett’s smile:
A Note About Electronic Cigarettes
Within the past couple of years, electronic cigarettes have gained popularity, especially as a “safer” alternative to smoking. Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, not much research has yet been published about their long-term health effects. What we do know is that while e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, most contain nicotine, which is known to cause damage to the mouth.
Because nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, it reduces the amount of blood that can flow to your gums. This means that the gums don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need, causing gum recession and tooth sensitivity as well as putting you at a higher risk of cavities. The reduced blood flow to the gums caused by nicotine use can also mask the signs of gum disease, making it harder to detect and diagnose. This delays treatment and allows the disease to progress.
Many dentist will not surgically place implants for patients who smoke. The vasoconstriction of smoking causes less blood flow which adversely effects the healing process. Implants need lots of nutritious blood flow to heal and be healthy. Dr. McOmie will place implants on smokers but not without serious caution. If you are a heavy smoker Dr. McOmie will not place an implant. The success rate in heavy smokers is just to low.
Until further research is done, we can’t really know how safe e-cigarettes are. As health care professionals, we advise you to avoid them until their long-term effects are known.
Count Us As A Part Of Your Support System
Our patients are more than just patients–they are friends. We care about your health and well-being and want you to count us as a part of your support system to help you quit smoking. If you aren’t quite ready to quit, continue to see us regularly as recommended so we can help you maintain your oral health as best as possible. Talk to us about quitting today and how we can help you! Dr. McOmie has been known to give steep discounts on teeth whitening to smokers who quit!
We do oral cancer screenings on every patient for free! We use an instrument called a Velscope that helps us detect oral cancer easier and much earlier. Even if you are not a current patient, you can still come in for a free screening anytime. It is fast painless and simple to be screened. We discussed the benefits to getting oral cancer screening in another post a few months ago so make sure to read more.