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Smoking & Your Oral Health

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Over 8 billion cigarette sticks are smoked every year in Kenya according to WHO statistics. That’s about Ksh.40 billion going up in smoke every year. That’s a lot of cigarettes and a lot of money! But beyond the cost of purchasing them, is the heavy price we pay in terms of oral health.

Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years

shorter than for non-smokers. The major causes of this reduced life-expectancy among smokers are diseases that are related to smoking, including cancer and respiratory and vascular disease. A lot can be said about disease conditions associated with smoking, but let’s focus on how smoking affects the mouth.

Unfortunately not many who smoke are aware of the deleterious effects to the gums, teeth and soft tissue in the mouth. A common question we get from smokers goes something like this “I have stained teeth from smoking. Is it possible to whiten them?” This question shows that for most smokers, the most pressing concern is tobacco staining and indeed staining is one of the effects of smoking. However, there are a myriad other consequences with far greater implications than aesthetics.
Smoking is attributed to an increased risk and prevalence of gum disease, decayed teeth and oral cancer.

Gum disease: Characterized in smokers by increased loss of the bone that supports the teeth as well as receding gums. This can lead to loss of teeth altogether. Besides that is halitosis or bad-breath. This can be attributed to the change in saliva in smokers and to the reduced blood flow to the gums.

Tooth decay: Smokers have been found to have more teeth with decay as well as more surfaces having decay such as roots and smooth surface caries. The saliva in smokers has reduced pH and therefore reduced ability to prevent tooth decay compared with that of non-smokers. Nicotine has been shown to promote the growth of bacteria that causes tooth decay.

Oral Cancer: Lip, oral and pharyngeal cancer have a strong association with smoking- meaning that smokers are at greater risk of developing the same. In Kenya, such cancers are on the rise with about 7 % of all cancers occurring in these sites. Cancer in the mouth may start as a pre-cancerous lesion- that is a wound that is benign but later changes to become malignant. It is important to see a doctor/dentist if you notice a wound in the mouth that is not healing.

Delayed healing is one of the effects of smoking. Some dental procedures such as implants and gum surgery in many cases will not be carried out in smokers because of the high risk of failure /complications resulting from poor healing.

Smoking cigarettes is harmful to your oral health. Even passive smoking (where the people inhaling the smoke around the vicinity of the active smoker) has been shown to affect the oral health of children by increasing their risk of developing tooth decay.  Smoking more than 15 cigarettes a day has been linked to having more decayed, missing and filled teeth. We encourage smokers to quit or drastically reduce the number of sticks smoked in a day. Within 5 years of quitting, your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and bladder are cut in half.

For help on how to quit smoking, please see a physician. For more information on benefits of quitting, quit tips and related resources, go here.
Have a healthy day!

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