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Gum disease & general health

Tobacco use and your
oral health

Tobacco use, both smoking and chewing tobacco, seriously affects both general and oral health and is linked with many serious preventable illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. Tobacco users are also at increased risk for oral cancer and increased severity and extent of periodontal diseases.

More about Pure Periodontics.

Smoking and
periodontal disease

Studies have shown tobacco use to be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.

Smokers have more severe gum disease than non-smokers with deeper pockets and a poorer response to periodontal treatment. They also have an increased risk of disease reoccurrence.

Smokers are more likely to suffer greater tooth loss and the return of periodontal problems.

Alongside this, smoking also masks the obvious sign of gum disease; bleeding. This means that smokers can be unaware of periodontal problems.

The increased risk is thought to be due to a reduction in gingival blood flow, impaired white cell function, impaired wound healing and an increased production of inflammatory substances (cytokines) that enhance tissue breakdown. Many studies have shown that persistent smoking leads to greater tooth loss and a reduced response to periodontal therapy.

Tobacco use and Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is the eleventh most common cancer in the world. It is more common in people over 40 and particularly in men, however there has been an increase in oral cancer in younger people and women. In the UK the diagnosis of oral cancer has increased by more than a third compared to a decade ago. Most cases of oral cancer are linked to alcohol and tobacco use.

Nicotine and gum disease

The nicotine in tobacco smoke is called a vaso-constrictor and it acts on blood vessels to contract them therefore reducing blood flow to the gum and bone. This in turn can mask the signs of gum disease and undermine the body’s ability to fight infection. Most of the signs of deterioration are deep and out of sight. X-rays taken of the teeth of smokers typically show that bone support has begun shrinking away from the tooth roots.

Nicotine also promotes the formation of a thicker “mucous” like saliva. This thicker “mucous” is less effective at counteracting the effects of acid attack after eating than the regular thinner saliva.

Gum disease and loose teeth

Smokers are more likely to have serious gum (periodontal) disease that can involve not just the gum but also the supporting bone and the membrane that holds the teeth in place. Smoking can hide the signs of gum disease for years and the condition can be very advanced before a smoker notices any damage. Slight infections around the edges of the gums are common and easily treated, but smoking allows the condition to progress more deeply and seriously. Effective plaque removal through careful brushing and cleaning between the teeth tends to slow down the deterioration, but smokers often have reduced sensation in their mouths and it is difficult to detect and remove all the plaque at the gum margins.

Types of tobacco

There is no safe form of tobacco use and there are many types of tobacco available. All forms contain nicotine and can cause addiction and health problems.
Products that contain tobacco:

  • cigarettes & cigars
  • Kreeteks & Bidis
  • chewing tobacco, betel quid, gutkha, paan
  • Sheesha
  • Snuff

Stopping tobacco use

Patient’s who stop smoking have been shown to respond as well to periodontal treatment as non-smokers. Studies have shown that the majority of people benefit from using smoking cessation medications and the support of a stop smoking service.

Most health problems are caused by other components in tobacco smoke, not by the nicotine. Smoking is highly addictive, largely because it delivers nicotine very quickly to the brain and this makes stopping smoking difficult.

Licensed nicotine-containing products are an effective way of reducing the harm from tobacco for both the person smoking and those around them. It is safer to use licensed nicotine-containing products than to smoke.

People who reduce the amount they smoke without supplementing their nicotine intake with a licensed nicotine product will compensate by drawing smoke deeper into their lungs, exhaling later and taking more puffs. It is recommended that those individuals should reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke or use a licensed nicotine containing product to give them some ‘therapeutic’ nicotine. This is more likely to reduce the amount that they smoke and to improve their health.

Licensed nicotine-containing products are available on prescription, over the counter at pharmacies and on general sale at many retail outlets.

Electronic/ E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have been shown to help people to stop smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption. Public Health England’s (PHE) most recent guidance is that while vaping may not be 100% safe, most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger.

However, recent studies are now show that the e-cigarette vapour is not inactive and exposure to the vapour can produce a toxic effect on cells and lead to DNA damaging effects. Although electronic cigarettes aren’t as harmful as traditional cigarettes, it is important to recognise that they do not come risk free.

To receive the necessary support and guidance to give up smoking, you can seek help from your GP, contact the free NHS help line – NHS Go Smoke Free, or your local Boots store that offer Boots Smoke Less Service. It is important to be aware you don’t have to go through what can be a difficult journey alone.

Stop smoking support

NHS Go Smoke Free 0300 123 1044
Boots Smoke Less Service
If you are a smoker or tobacco user and concerned about gum disease please call us to speak with our friendly team or fill out our contact form.