Smoking and oral health

If you smoke, you are at a higher risk of developing oral health problems, such as gum disease and oral cancers. It is important to look after your teeth and gums to prevent dental problems and disease.

How smoking affects your oral health

Common problems that affect smokers include:

  • gum disease
  • oral cancers
  • tooth decay and tooth loss
  • loss of taste
  • stained teeth
  • mouth sores
  • bad breath
  • trouble healing after dental treatments. 
Smokers lose more teeth than people who do not smoke.

How vaping affects your oral health

The current position of vaping on oral health is not well understood, as it has only been around for a few years. However, there is emerging evidence that, like smoking, it can significantly worsen gum health. Substances in the e-liquids used in vaping are known to contain chemicals that can cause damage to cells. These changes can potentially lead to cancer.

Although many of these substances are known to be safe as 'food products', more research is required to understand how these substances affect health when heated to the high temperatures involved in vaping. It is recommended that if you are going to vape, that you use this for a limited time, for example 1 to 3 months, with gradual decrease in the nicotine concentration to help you stop smoking. It is not recommended that you vape alongside cigarette smoking.

Gum disease

Smoking is a major risk factor for gum disease. It means:

  • you will get more dental plaque (a hard coating on your teeth)
  • gum diseases will progress more quickly 
  • there is less supply of oxygen to your gums — this makes it harder for them to heal from infection. 

If you get gum disease and it is not treated, it will get worse. The gum tissue and bone surrounding the teeth can be destroyed, which leads to tooth loss. 

Gum disease

Oral cancer

Smoking is a major cause of cancer in the mouth. This includes cancers of: 

  • the lip
  • tongue
  • cheeks
  • other sites in the mouth.

The longer you smoke, the more you increase your risk of developing oral cancer. The risk is even higher if you drink a lot of alcohol.

Symptoms of oral cancer

Usually the first sign of oral cancer is a sore or lump in the mouth that does not heal. There may also be swelling in your mouth, or a white or red patch in your mouth.

Diagnosing oral cancer

Regular dental checkups are important to detect early signs of oral cancer. Research has shown that people who see the dentist regular have far better survival than those who rarely see a dentist. This is because early signs of oral cancer can be picked up before you are aware you have a problem. Even people with false teeth should have mouth checks for this reason.

If you have any symptoms of oral cancer you should see your dentist immediately.

Early detection is important so treatment can start as soon as possible to prevent spread. 

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