Cigarette smoking among adults in the U.S. hit an all-time low of 19% in 2011, down from 42.4% in 1965. Unfortunately, this still means that tens of millions of Americans are placing themselves at risk for developing lung cancer, heart disease, and dozens of other diseases and illnesses that are caused by smoking. Still, it’s less widely known that cigarette smoke also adversely affects smokers’ oral health, damaging the teeth, gums and tongue.
Cigarette smoke is thick enough to stain painted walls, windows, and even car seats, so it should come as no surprise that it’s able to stain teeth as well. A regular smoker’s teeth typically exhibit a more yellowish color. This often results in higher dental care costs, as smokers must whiten their teeth more frequently.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco cigarette smoke contains some 7,000 chemicals, including acetone, acetic acid, ammonia, arsenic, benzene, butane, cadmium, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, lead, naphthalene, methanol, nicotine, tar, and toluene. Many of these chemicals attack and break down the protective enamel covering the teeth, making the prone to decay.
The increased risk of tooth decay among smokers places them at a higher risk for loosing teeth. And losing just a single tooth can shift other teeth out of position.
The average smoker is 2-3 times more likely to develop severe gum disease than a non-smoker. Severe gum disease is defined as gum disease in which there’s a notable amount of bone loss. As the plaque and bacteria multiply, it will make their way across the tooth’s surface while heading towards the gums. This is why it’s important to floss at least once a day, pulling the plaque and food debris away from your gums.
Nearly 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with tongue cancer each year. Several studies have found a direct link to cigarette smoke and higher rates of tongue cancer. The condition usually begins as small white bumps that gradually grow larger if left untreated. Thankfully, tongue cancer is usually curable if diagnosed and treated early.
Long-term use of tobacco cigarettes will dull the taste buds, making food and beverages just a little less enjoyable. The thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke damages the taste buds, resulting in duller, less intense flavors. Many former smokers report a positive change in taste after kicking the habit.