Smoking and Gum Disease: The Impact of Cigarettes on Oral Health

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you and the last thing smokers need is lectures about why they should quit. However, amidst the focus on major smoking-related killers like cancer and emphysema, the impact of smoking on gum disease is often overlooked and poorly understood, even by smokers themselves. By recognizing how smoking affects your oral tissues, you can gain deeper insights into the benefits of either quitting smoking or reducing risk of damage by taking pro-active steps to protect your dental health.

Smoking and Gum Disease

Gums depend on healthy oxygen levels delivered via blood circulation to maintain optimal health. When you smoke, nicotine constricts the blood vessels and blood flow is reduced, depriving gums of the oxygen and nutrients they need and increasing your risk of bacterial infection. Once a gum infection has taken hold, smoking reduces your body’s ability to fight off the infection and heal affected tissue.

  • Smokers are twice as likely to have any form of gum disease.
  • Smokers are six times more likely to have serious gum disease, called periodontal disease
  • The more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the higher your risk is.

In fact, even medical interventions aimed at treating your gum disease may be less effective if you keep smoking because your body is less able to participate in the healing process.

The reduced blood flow to gums also has another harmful effect: it can mask gum disease. Typically, redness, swelling, and bleeding are some of the first telltale signs of gum disease, allowing you to identify a problem and seek treatment. Smokers, however, often don’t display these early symptoms and without visible signals of potential problems, allowing gum disease to go unnoticed and grow in severity.

Smoking-Related Tooth Loss

Over time, severe gum disease can result in jaw bone loss, damaging the support structure of the tooth. For smokers, the “chemicals in the smoke combined with plaque bacteria create a dangerous combination,” exacerbating even “normal” bone loss resulting from periodontal disease:

“X-rays taken of the teeth of even young smokers usually show that bone support has begun shrinking away from the tooth roots. Most of the deterioration is deep and out of sight and there are only a few early warning signs.”

Meanwhile researchers at the University of Buffalo note that:

[C]igarette smoke may accelerate periodontal disease and studies suggest that chemicals found in smoke may favor plaque-forming bacteria that could reduce the ability of saliva to be antioxidative. Nicotine also has been shown to reduce bone density and bone mineral factors.”

Eventually, this loss of supporting bone structure can lead to loose teeth that may either fall out on their own or need to be extracted by your dentist. Numerous studies have found that smokers are at significantly higher risk of experiencing tooth loss than non-smokers; in an article published in the Journal of Dental Research, researchers found that, “Men who smoked cigarettes had a 4.5-fold increase in risk of edentulism [tooth loss]” and the risk is even greater for women. 

Unfortunately, smokers who experience tooth loss may have limited options when it comes to restoration. More specifically, dental implants may be contraindicated, as smoking can impair the healing process and compromise the success of the implant.

Reducing Your Risk

The best way to reduce your risk of damage to your oral health is by quitting smoking. Even if you have already developed periodontal disease, quitting can slow the progression of the diseases and drastically lowers the likelihood that you will experience tooth loss. Speak to your doctor about smoking cessation supports that may work for you.

When you do quit, you may notice that you experience more bleeding of the gums when you brush and floss; while this is a sign of gum disease, it is also a sign that your body is regenerating and allowing your blood to move freely, without being constricted by nicotine. Once you seek treatment for your gum disease and allow your oral tissues to heal, this bleeding should stop.

If you are not ready to quit altogether, consider cutting down; experts agree that the degree of damage is directly related to the number of cigarettes you smoke and the less you smoke, the less severe the damage may be.

Regardless of whether you quit or continue smoking, establishing a good oral healthcare routine that includes professional cleanings and exams is essential to maintaining the wellbeing of your mouth. Even if you are no longer smoking, you remain at an elevated risk for gum disease and tooth loss for years after your last cigarette. Gum disease is a medical condition that requires medical treatment; you cannot manage gum disease solely through at-home hygiene practices and it is essential that you receive the care and monitoring you need by professionals who can assess your oral health and perform any necessary therapeutic treatments.

Fountain Valley Dental Care

If you would like more information about the impact of smoking or have concerns regarding your oral health, we invite you to contact us at our Fountain Valley dental office. We offer comprehensive, compassionate dental care using state-of-the-art technologies to ensure that you receive the best treatment in a warm, inviting environment. We are always happy to answer any questions you may have and invite you to set up an appointment to meet Dr. Kvarnstrom and the rest of the team.