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Smoking and Gum Health

Many smokers need to be made more aware of the dangers of tobacco use. Only 29 percent of smokers say they believe themselves to be at an above-average risk for heart attack compared with their nonsmoking peers (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 1999).

While information about the medical problems associated with smoking – such as lung disease, cancer, heart disease and low-birth-weight babies – is widely available, many smokers are unaware that tobacco use is harmful to oral health.

Recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of gum disease. In addition, following treatment, the chemicals in tobacco can slow down the healing process and make the treatment results less predictable.

How does smoking increase your risk for periodontal disease?

As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have the following problems:

  • Calculus – plaque that hardens on your teeth and can only be removed during a professional cleaning
  • Deep pockets between your teeth and gums
  • Loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth

If the calculus is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gum line, the bacteria in the calculus can destroy your gum tissue and cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria.

If left untreated, periodontal disease will progress. The pockets between your teeth and gums can grow deeper, allowing in more bacteria that destroy tissue and supporting bone. As a result, the gums may shrink away from the teeth making them look longer. Without treatment, your teeth may become loose, painful and even fall out.

Smokers loose more teeth than nonsmokers do. Only about 20 percent of people over age 65 who have never smoked are toothless, while a 41.3 percent of daily smokers over age 65 are toothless.

Current smokers don’t heal as well after gum treatment as former smokers or nonsmokers. These effects are reversible if the smokers kick the habit before beginning treatment.

Other tobacco products are also harmful to your gum health. Smokeless tobacco also can cause gums to recede and increase the chance of losing the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place.

Cigar and pipe smokers also experience tooth loss and alveolar bone loss at rates equivalent to those of cigarette smokers.

Other Oral Problems. Researches also have found that the following problems occur more often in people who use tobacco products: Oral cancer, Bad breath, Stained teeth, Tooth loss, Bone loss, Loss of taste, Less success with gum treatment, Less success with dental implants, Gum recession, Mouth sores, Facial wrinkling.

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