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The Effects of Tobacco on Our Teeth and the Oral Cancer Connection

Are you aware of the link between smoking and gum disease, or the link between gum disease and cancer?

When it comes to our general health and well-being, it doesn’t take a medical genius to work out that in order to be fit and healthy, we need to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. We should cut out junk food, or at least cut right back on it. We should eat fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and fresh and natural produce. We should drink more water, and we should get more exercise. Whilst all of those things are constantly stressed to us, and every day we hear more and reasons why we need to heed that advice through media and television, there is another factor that we should address:  The effects our lifestyles in general, or more specifically, our lifestyle choices and habits, have on the health of our teeth and gums, together with the further ranging consequences of that.

There are medical studies abound showing us the irreversible effects excessive alcohol and drug consumption have on the body. Smoking too is so well-documented and sufficiently vilified that today we are more than aware of the risks, even if we choose not to heed the advice.
But something that is less widely discussed is the effects of cigarettes on the teeth and gums, and the links between smoking and gum disease and ultimately cancer.  Here we’ll be looking at how cigarettes can damage our teeth, and just how serious the cigarette – oral cancer connection actually is.

How serious is the cigarette – oral cancer connection?

Smoking stains the teeth – A well-known dental problem associated with smoking is the fact that smoking turns the teeth a nasty yellow/brown colour which is extremely difficult to reverse. This is caused by sticky brown substances that are produced in cigarette smoke that coat your teeth and stain them. What many people don’t realise is that these sticky substances are also deposited in the lungs, slowly clogging them up and irritating them causing coughing, bronchitis and emphysema. So coatings of stain are an unpleasant cosmetic problem, but they’re nothing like the medical problems that creep up with time.

The rise in popularity or whitening toothpastes and clinical whitening treatments has been the industry’s  response to our demands for ‘whiter, healthier looking teeth’.  However, these are a little like slapping a coat of paint over the cracks in your house and hoping the subsidence will go away! Yes, they may make your teeth may look better but they can’t tackle the cause of the problem, and that is the medical effects of smoking.

Besides, An article published in the Daily Mail last year showed that despite the meteoric rise in popularity of these whitening toothpastes, many brands failed to actually whiten and clear away the stains on the teeth very much when actually put to the test.
Smoking and gum disease – Gum disease, or periodontitis as it is also known, is a potentially serious condition that affects about 83% of the population at some point during their lives (England/Wales Adult Dental Health Survey 2009). Although the most important cause of gum disease is dental plaque, there are many other causes of gum disease. Smoking and consuming other tobacco based products is by far the most important secondary factor in causing cause gum disease. This is because smoking damages your body’s ability to heal itself (not only in the mouth,) and so, when plaque bacteria infect the soft tissue and the bone attachment that holds your teeth firmly in place, they can’t resist the encroaching infection, so it simply infects and damages more and more of your gums. Cigarette smoke contains a cocktail of highly toxic and irritant chemicals which have been found to damage gum tissue cells and how they function. This in turn means that smokers are far more at risk of suffering from numerous infections including gum disease, which can then lead to multiple other health issues.

Smoking causes cancer! – Here’s where things get really serious. Most people are aware that smoking causes numerous strains of cancer, including lung cancer, throat cancer, and mouth cancer.

How? Because cigarette smoke is packed full of harmful chemicals, toxins, and free radicals which penetrate the skin cells and actually cause them to oxidize. When we wrap meat in plastic vacuum seals, the vacuum seal protects the meat from oxygen, greatly reducing the oxidation process. If we were to unwrap the meat, it would begin to turn brown and would then rot and turn rancid over time. This is caused by oxidation. The chemicals contained in tobacco products penetrate the skin cells and cause them to oxidize in the same way. This damages them so much that not only their protective functions are compromised, they are more likely to mutate into cancerous cells, not only in the mouth, but in other parts of our bodies too.

We all have to face death eventually, but dying from cancer is a slow miserable business, often with repeated bouts of bronchitis and other infections. By not smoking, the chances of this happening to you are minimised.

Now you know the link between smoking and gum disease, and the link between gum disease and cancer. So if you’re a smoker… well, I think you’ve got the message without me having to spell it out for you !

Dr Peter Galgut divides his time between treating patients at his private periodontal clinic in North London and lecturing and consulting to other dentist practitioners on the subject of the treatment of periodontal disease using non-surgical methods. To book an appointment, contact him here: Ask a Dentist Online

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