Smile – it really is a good idea to quit the fags
By Dr Grant McAree
IF one of your new year's resolutions is to quit smoking, it may give you an added incentive to know that there are few worse things for your teeth, gums and general oral health than smoking.
It's not just about staining and bad breath – smoking increases the risk of mouth cancer and there's evidence it exacerbates gum disease too. It also restricts the blood supply to the bones holding your teeth in place, which can result in wobbly teeth and restorative dental work being more problematic and, therefore, costly.
Smoking can discolour the teeth, degrading the smile. Our smile is one of the first things people notice about us; a brighter, whiter smile can be key to making a great first impression. Toothpastes and mouthwashes can only counteract the effects so far, then it's down to teeth whitening procedures, either carried out at home or at the dental surgery. However, whitening won't stop your teeth becoming stained again if you continue to smoke.
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Smokers are more prone to gum disease than non-smokers, as they're more likely to produce dental plaque, which leads to gum disease. Smoking results in a lack of oxygen in the blood stream, meaning infected gums fail to heal, as the healing nutrients are no longer present in the tissues. Worryingly, gum disease actually causes more tooth loss in adults than decay.
Dental implants, which involve a titanium post being surgically placed in the jaw bone to hold a crown to restore missing teeth or to hold troublesome dentures in place, might not be an option for patients who have insufficient bone as a result of smoking, which severely restricts the blood supply and, with it, the size of the bone into which the implant can be placed.
Although smoking doesn't damage or stain veneers – porcelain covers bonded to the existing tooth surface, rather like false fingernails – the gums of patients who smoke may need to be treated before veneers can be placed.
The best advice, therefore, is to try to give up. The good news is that if you quit, your teeth can be restored with cosmetic dental treatments and whitening, your gums can be treated, your mouth cancer risk should drop and the bones supporting your teeth will often quickly recover as the blood supply is restored.