NEWS | Nov. 16, 2015

Smoking and oral health truths

By Capt. Jeffrey Yee

Smoking negatively effects oral cavity health by increasing the risk of gum disease, oral cancer and staining. Additionally, smoking delays healing and decreases success rates for dental therapies.

Smoking also directly increases your chances for developing periodontitis or gum disease. Periodontitis leads to the destruction of the gum tissue and underlying bone resulting in tooth loss and unaesthetic smiles. Moderate smokers are three times more likely to develop periodontitis than non-smokers--and heavy smokers are five times more likely. Smoking suppresses your body's immune system and increases the number of damaging bacteria that cause periodontitis.

Cigarette smoke contains much more than just nicotine--it contains over 600 chemical compounds, 69 of which are known to cause cancer, including acetone, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, lead and tar.  Smoking can increase your risk for oral cancer six fold. Drinking alcohol regularly also increases your risk for oral cancer six fold. When drinking and smoking are combined the risks increase even further. Treating oral cancer can be disfiguring because treatments and surgeries are often aggressive, such as removing a large portion of the jaw.  Worse than disfiguring, oral cancer can be fatal.

Smoking also decreases blood flow in gum tissue causing poor healing after oral surgery and dental implant therapy. The decrease in blood flow limits your body's ability to supply the cells in your gums with nutrients and white blood cells to fight bacteria.  The decrease in blood flow also can mask the severity of periodontal disease.  Inflammation and bleeding from the gum pockets are hallmark signs of periodontal disease but decreased blood flow from smoking can mask these signs, making the disease more difficult to detect.

Fortunately many of the adverse oral effects of smoking are reversible when smokers quit.  There are many resources available to assist in quitting.  Nicotine gum, dermal patches and certain medications are all proven methods for cessation.  Contact your primary care manger to learn more. T

he Health and Wellness Center, located in building 225 behind the Fitness Center, is also a great resource offering tools to aid smokers in their efforts to stop.  Call 963-6880 to make an appointment with a tobacco cessation counselor.

Quitting tobacco is difficult and can intimidating. The upcoming Great American Smoke Out on November 19th can be a low-threat way to try out quitting just for one day.  Stopping - even for one day - is an important step toward a healthier life - one that can lead to a reduced cancer risk.