According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 54,000 people will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer this year. Roughly one person per hour will die from oral cancer.
People who smoke are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer, gum problems and complications after tooth extractions and gum and oral surgery. Smokers have a lowered resistance to infections and have impaired healing.
Stopping smoking reduces the risk of developing gum disease and oral cancer, and improves the person’s response to gum treatment. It is very important for smokers to visit their dentists regularly to keep their teeth and gums healthy and have regular oral cancer checks.
Caring for your teeth and gums
If you are a smoker, there are some things you can do to prevent tooth and gum problems, including:
- Quit smoking
- If quitting smoking is too difficult, try and reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke.
- Brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss your teeth daily.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- Drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production.
- Reduce your alcohol intake.
Oral problems affecting people who smoke
The most common oral problems affecting smokers face include:
- Periodontal disease
- Oral cancer
- Smoker’s keratosis, a whitening of the oral mucus membrane
- Lowered resistance to infections
- Stained teeth
- Bad breath
- Bad taste
Periodontal (gum) disease is caused by an infection that damages the bone surrounding your teeth. This bone holds your teeth into your jawbone and allows you to chew comfortably. Bacteria and plaque can cause gum disease if left untreated. Plaque hardens and forms tartar in your mouth. The plaque and calculus irritate the gums around your teeth. As gum disease progresses, more bone is lost. Teeth become loose and may fall out.
Smokers typically do not have bleeding gums as they have poor blood supply to the gums, so their gum disease is often masked.
Research from the Oral Cancer Foundation shows tobacco use is a major risk factors for developing oral cancer. People who smoke less than 10 cigarettes per day are two times more likely to develop gum disease. This increases to four to five times more likely in heavier smokers. The more cigarettes smoked, the worse the gum disease. Smokers do not respond as well to gum treatment as non-smokers.
Smokers are at a higher risk of developing acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, a very painful condition of the gum, which smells and tastes terrible. People who stop smoking have the same risk of developing gum disease and responding to gum treatment as non-smokers. People who stop smoking may notice that their gums bleed more. The bleeding should stop after gum treatment from your dentist or dental hygienist, and cleaning your teeth properly.
Symptoms of gum disease
Dentists are trained to screen for oral cancer so regular visits to your dentist care important to your oral health. You should see your dentist right away if you notice any signs and symptoms of gum disease, which including:
- Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums
- Pus discharge coming from your gums
- Gums that are loose and pull away from your teeth
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Spaces opening between your teeth
Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth, including the tongue, cheek, palate, mouth and lips. Oral cancer in smokers is most likely to occur on the side of the tongue and the floor of the mouth. Treatment for oral cancer includes surgery, radiotherapy and tooth extractions.
Symptoms of oral cancer
Please see your dentist immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Persistent ulcer in your mouth or on your lip that does not disappear after seven to 10 days.
- White patch in your mouth
- Red patch in your mouth
- Swelling in your mouth
- Dentures suddenly not fitting properly
Poor healing after dental treatments
People who smoke are more likely to develop a ‘dry socket’. This is a poorly healing tooth socket after a tooth extraction and can be very painful. People who smoke are also more likely to have pain after other oral and gum surgery.
It is important to look after your oral health to prevent gum disease. Regular visits to your dentist are recommended to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Contact your dentist if you have any problems after a tooth extraction, oral surgery and gum treatment.