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When you think of smoking and oral health, you probably first think of yellowed teeth and bad breath. These two aspects are common occurrences for people who smoke especially regular smokers on a daily basis and for a prolonged length of time. Yet, further to the common stained teeth and bad breath, there are other matters related to oral health when it comes to smokers. Gum disease and problems, gum and oral surgery, complications post-tooth extractions and oral cancer are all potential risks for smokers. Additionally, whitening of the oral mucosa or mucus membrane can occur which is known as smoker’s keratosis can also be a risk with oral health for those who smoke.
Periodontal (gum) disease is a common occurrence for smokers especially heavy smokers and is caused by an infection within the gum area. Symptoms include red, tender or swollen gums, discharge or pus from gums and loose teeth not to mention bad breath. The more a smoker smokes the more likely gum disease is probable to occur and can be masked and not exhibit bleeding like gum disease can do. Additionally, those who smoke are less likely to heal well after gum treatment. How do you look after your gums especially if you are a smoker? Brushing your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing helps reduce the probability of gum disease and use mouthwash which is alcohol-free. Avoiding foods such as sugar, sweets as well as sugary drinks can help reduce the build-up of plaque on your teeth. Optimally, a smoker should reduce the number of smokes they have or try to quit all together.
Oral cancer is a high probability with oral health of people who smoke and is a cancer of the mouth including the tongue, cheek and lips. Drinking alcohol can also contribute to oral cancer but smoking is a significant cause. Oral cancer is the mutation of cells within the mouth due to the repeated exposure of chemicals from smoking which alter the oral health or cavity. The symptoms of oral cancer include a constant ulcer within the mouth or on the lips, a white or red path within the mouth, swelling in the mouth and dentures not fitting properly all of a sudden. Treatment of oral cancer quite often involves surgery, radiotherapy and possible tooth extractions.
Post a tooth extraction, smokers tend to be more likely to develop ‘dry socket’ which is a tooth socket not healing properly or well after the extraction. Chemicals from persistent smoking affect the healing properties within the mouth and can cause complications post-surgery. Periodontal or gum treatment or surgery may not work as effectively for a smoker than it does for a non-smoker; smoking can reduce the healing and slow down the process if not cause further gum complications due to the repeated exposure of harmful chemicals.
The optimum thing to do if you’re a smoker and worried about your oral health is to try to quit smoking; that is first and foremost. However, if this is not something that you wish to do, brushing your teeth regularly and flossing is important as well as using mouthwash without alcohol. Furthermore, you can see your dentist for teeth whitening to reduce the stained yellowing of your teeth. It might not produce the same results as it would for a non-smoker but it can help with the colour of your teeth so you can feel confident in smiling. Chewing mints is a good way to ease the bad breath associated with smoking. Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up to ensure that your oral health is at its best that it can be.