You don’t need us to tell you that cigarettes are bad for you. Cigarettes can impair oral health in a variety of ways, from provoking gum disease to increasing the risk of oral cancer.
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Newer to the nicotine scene are e-cigarettes, which have earned a reputation as cigarettes’ “healthier” cousin. But this reputation isn’t really deserved—at least as far as oral health is concerned. As you’ll see, e-cigs come with their own set of dental health threats.
No matter whether you use cigarettes or e-cigs, here are eight ways these products may impair your oral health.
Studies have long suggested that the tobacco smoke released by cigarettes can damage mouth cells. Even though e-cigs don’t contain tobacco, recent research suggests they may be offenders when it comes to provoking cell death.
One study found that e-cig vapor damaged or killed 53 percent of exposed mouth cells in a mere three days. Flavored vapors seem to cause the most damage, but all e-cigs may contribute to the death of mouth cells.
Partly because they cause cell death in the mouth, both cigarettes and e-cigs have been linked to gum disease (including gingivitis and periodontitis).
Cigarettes pose a double threat because they increase the buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which is another known contributor to gum disease. Not only can cigarettes provoke gum disease, but they can also exacerbate it—increasing the risk that gum disease will reach more advanced (and more damaging) stages.
The mouth cell damage and gum disease potentially brought on by cigarettes and e-cigs can also contribute to tooth decay. This could result in needing to have cavities filled. If left unchecked, this decay may ultimately lead to tooth loss in some cases.
Nicotine has a vasoconstrictive effect, which means several things—but for our purposes here, the most important takeaway is that it limits the body’s ability to produce saliva. This is why dry mouth is potentially more common among people who use nicotine products. Not only is dry mouth a hassle in its own right, but it can also contribute to other oral health issues.
Chalk this up to another consequence of mouth cell damage, gum disease, dry mouth, and/or tooth decay: Any and all of these factors may provoke halitosis, aka bad breath. Over time, the other oral health consequences of e-cig use may provoke halitosis.
It’s not just a stereotype that smokers have yellow teeth; in many cases, it’s a reality. Over time, the nicotine and tar in tobacco products can cause teeth to take on a yellowed appearance. This is further exacerbated by the fact that (as noted above) smoking cigarettes results in more buildup of plaque and tartar. People who have been smoking for a long time may even notice their teeth start to take on a brownish hue.
Cigarettes may make the need for oral surgery more likely (as a result of contributing to gum disease and tooth decay), but they may also make recovery from surgery more difficult. That’s because smoking cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen in a person’s bloodstream, which inhibits the body’s immune responses and slows down wound healing. This can disrupt the healing process after tooth extractions, gum surgeries, and other oral surgeries.
Smoking (or chewing) tobacco can significantly increase the risk of developing lung and/or oral cancers, including throat and mouth cancer. Thousands of people die each year as a result of these cancers.