As you probably already know, tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. What you may not know is tobacco users are also at increased risk for periodontal disease.

In fact, recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, is a bacterial infection of the gums, bone, and attachment fibers that support the teeth and hold them in the jaw. The bacteria are found in dental plaque, a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth. If the plaque is not removed carefully every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance known as calculus or tartar. Toxins (or poisons) produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums, causing infection.

If left untreated, this infection causes periodontal disease, which can result in bleeding gums, bad breath, and eventually, tooth loss.

How Tobacco Use Affects Your Oral Health

Whether you smoke, dip, or chew tobacco, you are more likely to have periodontal disease – and to have it more severely – than those who do not use any form of tobacco.

As a smoker, you are more likely than non-smokers to have calculus form on your teeth, have deeper pockets between your teeth and gums, and lose more of the bone and tissue that support your teeth.

If the calculus is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gumline, the bacteria in the calculus can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria. If left untreated, periodontal disease will progress. The pockets between your teeth and gums can grow deeper, allowing in more bacteria that destroy tissue and supporting bone. As a result, the gums may shrink away from the teeth, making them look longer. Without support, your teeth may become loose, painful, and even fall out. Research shows that smokers lose more teeth than non-smokers.

As a user of smokeless tobacco, your gums are more likely to recede, and you have a greater chance of losing the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in your mouth. If your gums recede to the point where the tooth roots are exposed, your teeth may become susceptible to root cavities or sensitive to cold and touch (not to mention the fact that your chances of developing oral cancer increase with smokeless tobacco use).

These problems, associated with tobacco use of any kind, are caused by the many chemicals, such as nicotine and tar, in tobacco. These chemicals have harmful effects on the periodontal tissues. They cause an increase in the accumulation of plaque and calculus (or tartar) that can irritate your gums and lead to infection. Following periodontal treatment or any type of oral surgery, the chemicals in tobacco can also slow down the healing process and make the treatment destroy your gum tissue.

Research Shows …

Researchers are also finding that many of the following problems occur more often in patients who use tobacco:

  • Oral cancer
  • Bad breath
  • Stained teeth
  • Tooth loss
  • Bone loss
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Less success with periodontal treatment
  • Less success with dental implants
  • Gum recession
  • Mouth sores

Why Quitting Makes Sense – Tobacco use is addictive, yet every year millions of Americans quit. The benefits include reduced chances of developing cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, as well as less expensive health care. When you quit using tobacco, you also reduce your chances of getting oral and gum diseases. Gums that are free of disease are essential to helping you keep your teeth for a lifetime.

Quitting Takes Commitment – and it’s usually easier if you have help. To begin a tobacco cessation program, talk to your dentist, periodontist, or physician at our dental office in Palm Desert, California. They are prepared to help you.