When people discuss dental health, smoking is not usually part of the conversation. Yet, people who smoke know that their habit is addictive and has the potential to cause health issues. Smoking and chewing tobacco products cause discolored teeth and gum disease and are linked to slowed healing and several types of cancer. In this article, we will focus on gum disease — the most common effect of smoking — and explain what can be done to improve your oral health.
What is gum disease?
Gum or periodontal disease, like many other diseases, causes easily observable problems and hidden effects beneath the surface. Gum disease is an infection that attacks the gums and, in many cases, the jawbone. In severe cases, those afflicted with gum disease can lose their teeth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a leading cause of gum disease in the United States.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria that seep between teeth and gums. A dangerous film called plaque will develop if the bacteria is not swept away with daily oral care, such as brushing and flossing. If the plaque is allowed to stay, it soon turns into a hardened plaque called tartar. Tartar can build up, causing stress on the gums and turning into an early form of gum disease called gingivitis.
If gingivitis is not cared for by you at home and by your dentist, it will progressively become worse. As a result, your gums can pull away from your teeth, forming easily infected spaces. Severe gum disease called periodontitis can break down the bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place. In time, your teeth may loosen and need to be extracted.
How can I know if I have gum disease?
Common signs of gum disease are listed below. However, you should know that bleeding does not always happen when smokers have gum disease. According to Dr. Ahmed Uthman, smoking restricts blood flow to the oral cavity. Therefore, smokers may not have many signs of early gum disease, such as gum bleeding. Smokers may not realize they have gum disease until the condition has become more severe. Here are some symptoms to look for if you think you might have gum disease:
- Red, swollen, tender, bleeding gums
- Pain when you chew
- Loose or sensitive teeth
- Gaps caused by teeth pulling away from your gums
How can I prevent or recover from gum disease?
Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash can go a long way to preventing and healing gum disease. Your dentist can tell you at your regular check-up if you are brushing and flossing correctly. Here is a list of good habits for your daily routine:
- Brush your teeth carefully with fluoride toothpaste after each meal and snack. Avoid a back-and-forth sawing motion. Instead, make little circles with your brush, including your gums. Be sure to use the right brush. A stiff brush can be ineffective or even harmful. If your gums are red and painful, use a soft brush.
- Floss daily to remove plaque. It is well worth the time to remove food stuck between your teeth. Be sure to run the floss all the way to the base of the tooth, reaching slightly under your gums on both sides of each tooth. Other flossing tools are available if you don’t want to use straight floss.
- After brushing and flossing, it might help to swish a healthy mouthwash to further help cleanse your teeth and gums of bacteria. You can ask your dentist what mouthwash is the right one for you.
- Eat healthy foods to enhance oral health. Avoid eating sticky, sugary candy and gum that can promote tooth decay and the growth of bacteria.
- Avoid all smoking and tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It may seem difficult to stop smoking or chewing tobacco, but your doctor can help you with that process. Your family, your dentist, your doctor, and your body will thank you. It is never too late to stop smoking and realize the health benefits of a tobacco-free lifestyle.
- See your dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleaning.
Are treatments available for advanced gum disease?
There are treatments available to help with gum disease, and we want to do everything we can to help you. However, you should know that smoking impacts how fast your body heals. Smoking tobacco reduces the oxygen in your bloodstream, which is necessary for healing. Unfortunately, any treatments you receive for periodontal disease may not be as successful. The standard treatments for severe gum disease are as follows:
- Thorough cleaning beyond the gumline
- A prescription antibiotic mouthwash
- Prescription medication
- Oral surgery to remove deeply embedded tartar beneath your gums
- In severe cases, oral surgery may be needed to move gum tissue or restructure your jawbone. Your dentist may need to take gum tissue from one place in your mouth to another to cover exposed tooth roots.
- If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, quitting will help your gums heal following treatment.
As always, we would love to help you improve your dental health! If you have questions or want to set up an appointment, contact our office today.