Smoking is bad for oral health

Occasionally, at his surgery at Hammas Mehiläinen, dentist Roman Rajalasees a smoking patient who has not yet realised the devastating effects of smoking on oral health. The patient may be just thirty years old and in good health. It comes as a dreadful shock to the patient when it is revealed that periodontitis, an inflammation of tissues that support the teeth, has spread asymptomatically to such an extent that the only treatment available is to extract one or more teeth.

– For many people, that's a pretty big issue to deal with. Tooth extraction is often the first concrete indication of the effects of smoking, says Rajala.

Smoking multiplies the risk of periodontitis. Gum diseases progress faster if you smoke. In addition, gingivitis, which is highly common, often goes unnoticed because smoking reduces blood flow to the gums, and therefore the gums do not bleed as usual due to gingivitis. This allows gingivitis to secretly develop into periodontitis.

Parodontitis is not just an oral disease, because it has been proven to be associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cerebral infarction. Pathogens that cause periodontitis have been detected in all parts of the body.

Even just a few cigarettes make a difference

Treatment of periodontitis begins by cleaning off plaque from the surfaces of the teeth and gingival pockets. Maintenance is essential to keep the teeth clean, so it is very important for the patient to be committed to maintaining good dental hygiene. Sometimes, a course of antibiotics is needed to treat the infection, and if the infection is advanced, some teeth may have to be extracted. It may not even be possible to replace the extracted teeth with dental implants, because they are not suitable for smokers suffering from periodontitis, due to poor ossification.

If periodontitis is diagnosed early, the infection can be stopped with careful treatment, even if the disease will not completely disappear from the body, and there is no way to recover the tissues already lost. A precondition for the treatment of periodontitis is to stop smoking.

– If the patient is a smoker, treatment is difficult or even impossible. Smoker’s tissues do not want to heal, Rajala says.

To stop periodontitis, quitting smoking is at least as important as all other treatments combined. It helps to reduce smoking, but even a few cigarettes a day affect the gums.

– There is a surprisingly big difference between smoking a few a day or not at all, Rajala says.

Tobacco and alcohol together are very harmful

Periodontitis is not the only risk to oral health caused by smoking – there are many more. Smokers have bad breath, stained teeth, lips may be stained yellow, the tongue may go almost black – and of course, there is a risk of very serious illnesses such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In addition, smoking makes the risk of oral cancer about six times higher. It is particularly dangerous to drink alcohol and smoke at the same time. Alcohol damages the mucous membrane in the mouth, allowing toxic substances from tobacco smoke to enter the body directly.

– This increases the risk of oral cancer by up to ten times. That’s bad news for those who smoke while enjoying a drink and when partying, Rajala says.

The use of snuff also affects oral health. The teeth get stained, the gums retract and thicken due to mechanical irritation caused by holding the dose of snuff under the lip. Retracted gums make the teeth sensitive and caries develops easily. The use of snuff may also increase the risk of bowel cancer.

You can improve oral health even if you smoke

Even good dental hygiene may not save smokers from, for example, periodontitis, but that is no reason to abandon the toothbrush – quite the contrary.

– Careful dental hygiene is the most sensible thing a smoker can do for better oral health, says Rajala.
Many smokers want to quit the habit. If this is the case, help is close at hand: contact your dentist.

– Surprisingly often, when the damage done by smoking is revealed at the clinic, the customer succeeds in quitting smoking when motivated by the news. In the dentist’s chair, the damage done by smoking is revealed in such concrete terms, says Rajala.

How to quit smoking?

  1. Make sure you really want to quit. It is essential if you want to succeed.
  2. Ask your dentist for help with, for example, making the plan to quit, nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medication. It is important to start the nicotine replacement therapy with a sufficiently high dose.
  3. You should remember that while nicotine itself has some harmful effects, these are minimal compared to smoking.
  4. Would knowledge help motivate you? Ask your dentist to explain how smoking affects you and, on the other hand, how quitting will improve oral health.
  5. Make the most of dental appointments. If your gums are infected, they will need to be treated several times. You should regard treatment appointments as control appointments to help you quit smoking, as you get help throughout the process.

Book an appointment for a dental check-up through Mehiläinen’s booking system  or by calling the customer service: +358 (0)10 273 8000 (0,0835 €/call + 0,1669 €/min) (EUR 0.0835 per call + EUR 0.1669 per minute).

Browse the price list of Mehiläinen.

Dental and oral health Digital Clinic is also open every day of the year.

Sources:
Roman Rajala, dentist
Finnish Dental Association 
Health Library 
Duodecim 
Finnish Heart Association 

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