You've heard it a thousand times before- smoking tobacco products is detrimental to your overall health. Between increased cancer risk and diminished lung capacity, using cigarettes, cigars and other products stands as one of the most preventable causes of death nation wide. We would like to take a moment to inform you on the ways that smoking can harm your teeth and the oral cavity. We present this information not to scare or shame our patients who smoke, but rather as a means of informing and starting a conversation on quitting.
In any smoked tobacco product, there are hundreds of different chemicals that pass through your mouth and into your lungs. Almost all of these compounds are damaging to the human body in some capacity. The two most notable are nicotine and tar. Nicotine is the chemical that causes addiction in smoking. It triggers the dopamine pathways in your brain to program you to enjoy the sensation of tobacco use. This is what experts refer to as the "physical addiction" of smoking. Nicotine alone does not cause cancer, but it can cause deadly poisonings in high doses.
Tar is the collection of burned compounds that comes out of smoked tobacco. It is very volatile, with the power to create the genetic changes that lead to cancer. In the mouth, smoking is a leading risk factor for oral cancers. Think about it- all that tar has to travel past the lips, teeth cheeks and gums before it even hits the lungs. Furthermore, smoking is shown to increase the risk of periodontal disease, tooth loss and soft tissue irritation. In general, bathing the oral tissues in smoke inhibits their ability to heal properly. Thus, small problems like gingivitis and ulcers tend to become more destructive and take longer to resolve.
What about e-cigarettes? Also known as "vaping" or "vaporizers," e-cigarettes are marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. Unfortunately, recent research shows that e-cigarettes create more smokers than they eliminate. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the world of e-cigarettes is largely unregulated. Vaporizers, vape pens and so called "e-juice" (the liquid you put inside vaporizer) are not well monitored for quality and safety. Caustic chemicals in juice, nicotine overdoses and too-hot heating elements are all reported problems with e-cigarettes.
In short, putting anything other than fresh air in your mouth and lungs is a bad idea. This includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes, marijuana, hookah, smog and anything else packed with volatile chemicals. If you are a current smoker and are thinking about quitting, a good starting point is calling 1-800-NO-BUTTS or visiting tobaccofreeca.gov. At Thousand Oaks Family Dentistry, our sole focus is improving and maintaining your oral health. If you would like help quitting smoking or simply need a list of reasons and resources, please let us know at your next appointment.