Tobacco has two affects on oral health: Cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx (OCP), and periodontal disease.
The link between smoking and lung cancer is well-known. What isn’t as widely appreciated is tobacco use can lead to oral and pharyngeal cancer, the eighth most common type of cancer in the United Sates.
The risk of developing mouth or throat cancers is related to how much and how long a person used tobacco. Smokers are many times more likely than non-smokers to develop these cancers.
Smoking tobacco can also cause cancers of the larynx (voice box), lungs, esophagus, kidneys, bladder, and many other organs. Oral tobacco products are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Even though no tobacco is involved, vaping is no safer for your oral health.
Because it’s difficult to detect OCP early, two-thirds of cases are diagnosed in late stages.
Still, many pre-cancers and cancers in these areas can be found when they’re small during routine screening exams by a dentist, doctor, dental hygienist, or by self-exam.
Tobacco use is also one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal (gum) disease, a leading cause of tooth loss. About 20% of non-smokers over the age of 65 experience tooth loss, compared to 41.3% of daily smokers.
Gum disease starts with bacteria (germs) on your teeth that get under your gums. Smoking weakens your body’s ability to fight off gum infection, as well as making it harder for your gums to heal.
If the germs stay on your teeth for too long, layers of plaque (film) and tartar (hardened plaque) develop. This buildup leads to early gum disease, called gingivitis. When gum disease worsens, the gums can pull away from your teeth and form spaces that get infected. This is severe gum disease, also called periodontitis.
The bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place can break down, and your teeth may loosen, and fall out or need to be pulled out.
Other consequences related to smoking include: