Smoking facts…

Tobacco use and oral health

While most people are aware of the impact tobacco use has on their overall health, some might not consider its effects on oral health, including:

  • 50 percent of smoking adults have gum (periodontal) disease.
  • Smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers.
  • Cigarette smokers are nearly twice as likely to need root canal treatment.
  • Smoking leads to reduced effectiveness of treatment for gum disease.
  • Smoking increases risk of mouth pain, cavities and gum recession (which can lead to tooth loss).
  • Tobacco reduces the body’s ability to fight infection, including in the mouth and gums. Smoking also limits the growth of blood vessels, slowing the healing of gum tissue after oral surgery or from injury.
  • Smokeless tobacco (snuff or chewing tobacco) is associated with cancers of the cheek, gums and lining of the lips. Users of smokeless tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop these cancers than non-users.
  • Cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and unprocessed tobacco leaves (used as cigar wrappers) contain tiny particles that are abrasive to teeth. When mixed with saliva and chewed, an abrasive paste is created that wears down teeth over time.

Tobacco use and children

All parents, even those who do not use tobacco, should educate their children about the dangers of smoking:

  • 3,000 children and teens become regular users each day (including chewing tobacco).
  • Nearly one-quarter of all high school students smoke.
  • Some tobacco companies target children with cherry-flavored chewing tobacco sold in colorful containers.
  • Children exposed to tobacco smoke may have delays in the formation of their permanent teeth.
  • Women who smoke may be more likely to have children born with an oral cleft (cleft lip or cleft palate).

What you can do

If you are a smoker or a parent with a child or teen who you suspect may be using tobacco, you can start by understanding that tobacco dependence is a nicotine addiction disorder.

There are four aspects to nicotine addiction: physical, sensory, psychological and behavioral. All aspects of nicotine addiction need to be addressed in order to break the habit. This difficulty can mean that tobacco users may need to try several times before they are able to successfully kick the habit.

Nicotine Addiction Cycle

Smoking nearly doubles likelihood of root canal treatment

Need another reason to stop smoking? Quitting might help you avoid root canal treatment.

A new study shows that cigarette smokers are nearly twice as likely to need root canal treatment as nonsmokers. And the risk of a smoker needing root canal treatment increased with more years of smoking and decreased with length of abstinence.

The study, cited in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, included 811 men (ages 21 to 48) and endodontic analysis of 18,000 teeth for over three decades. Although the study subjects were male only, similar conclusions could likely be reached for female smokers, says the American Dental Association.

The participants visited the study site every three years and received dental evaluations for cavities, restorations and gum (periodontal) disease, among other conditions. Clinicians also took dental radiographs and documented each participant’s smoking history (e.g., frequency and type of tobacco).

While the study doesn’t explain why the risk for root canals is increased among cigarette smokers, analysts suspect that smoking weakens the body’s ability to fight infections. Other studies have also suggested that smokers experience more dental cavities, which is a major contributor to root canal treatment.

Delta Dental currently is conducting a study examining how dentists may provide tobacco cessation counseling to their patients who smoke. The project, a collaboration between Delta Dental and the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry, involves selected dentists in California, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who received different levels of training in tobacco cessation counseling. In 2006, these dentists’ patients are being surveyed to identify the benefits of the training and to compare the results with those of patients who visited dentists who received either less intensive training or no training at all.