Is smoking harming my teeth?

Dr. Kyle Hornby

I am a Dentist in Kitchener, ON and each week I like to explore a question that I commonly get at my Family Dental office. This week, I'd like to address whether or not smoking actually harms your teeth.

Patients who smoke are aware of the health consequences. Contrary to what many people believe, smokers are concerned about their health and seek information about how it may be affecting their teeth. At least once a month, a patient who smokes will ask me about the effects that the habit may be having in their mouth. Sometimes patients will even assume that a particular oral health consequence is due to smoking. "Probably due to the smoking, I'm guessing..." they often assert.

So, while I don't promote smoking, it's important to know what it does and does not do when it comes to your teeth and overall oral health. Today, let's focus on exactly that.

What does smoking do to teeth?

Contrary to what many people assume, cigarette smoking is not directly linked to dental cavities. However, some research has shown that cigarette smoking alters tooth enamel by heating it and exposing it to metal-based compounds in the smoke. This can drastically reduce your tooth enamels ability to resist acid erosion.

So, as an example, if you smoke cigarettes and consume a lot of acidic substances in your diet (think red wine and citrus fruits and smoothies), there may be an interaction that speeds up the erosion and loss of your tooth enamel.

When it comes to teeth, cigarette smoking has a profound negative effect on their appearance. Many studies have shown large changes in tooth colouration as smoking increases staining of enamel. Cigarette smoking can have further effects on tooth appearance when highly visible front teeth have previously been restored with dental fillings. This is because the smoke discolours the edges of fillings so that they stand out to a greater degree.

How much does smoking stain your teeth?

Enamel shade is standardized in Dentistry so that Dentists and Patients can talk quantitatively about tooth colour. Studies have shown that tooth smoking can cause discolouration of enamel by multiple shades after only 3 weeks. For more details, a useful study on smoking and tooth staining can be found here.

Generally, smoking stains can be removed at dental cleanings however, the stain is tenacious and it increases the time taken for cleaning which costs you more.

Will smoking affect teeth whitening?

This is a really important question for a lot of people because teeth whitening has become popular and widespread. When you whiten your teeth with Carbamide Peroxide, you are essentially removing stain particles deep within tooth enamel. Smoking reverses this effect.

So, you can certainly whiten your teeth if you smoke cigarettes but the effect of whitening won't last very long.

Can smoking effect healing from Dental Treatment?

Smoking can effect the outcome of many different dental treatments. These effects are discussed below:

Smoking after Tooth Extraction

After tooth removal or dental extraction, you should wait as long as you can before resuming smoking. How long after extraction before you can resume smoking? Well, smoking limits blood flow to the gums and that blood flow brings nutrients to the healing site. Don't starve your healing gums - wait at least a week before you resume smoking!

Does smoking cause dry socket? Absolutely. The heat and negative pressure you create when smoking will dry out your blood clot and increase the likelihood that it falls out of the socket. This exposes bony socket walls and nerve endings. Dry socket is a very painful post-extraction complication. It almost never occurs in non-smokers.

How much smoking will ruin a bone graft?

It's always difficult to quantify how much damage each cigarette has because effects aren't always linear. Sometimes, the answer to the question above is 1. That's right, smoking 1 cigarette can compromise proper healing of a bone graft or any socket preservation graft.

It can have the same effect on guided tissue regeneration, which is a more extensive and complex bone grafting procedure.

Does smoking affect gum grafts?

I have seen many cases where smoking has led to negative healing outcomes after a gum graft. As I spoke about above, all healing requires nutrition. And, in your body, blood flow carries nutrients to any healing site. When you smoke, you dramatically reduce the blood supply to your gums. If your gums aren't fed, they can't heal.

Ask your Kitchener Dentist or Kitchener Periodontist about the effects of smoking on gum grafting. Some practitioners believe the effects of smoking to be so severe that they will not provide gum grafting treatment to an active smoker.

Summary

There are many beliefs about the negative effects of smoking on oral health. Some are true while others are not. Smoking does not cause dental caries or "cavities" but it does produce changes in your enamel. Smoking is also a big cosmetic concern as it can stain your teeth severely and increase the disparity in shading between your natural tooth structure and cosmetic dental work.

Overall, smoking has it's most profound effect on the health of your gums and jaw bone as well as healing from certain surgical treatments. Smoking has this effect by decreasing blood flow that carries nutrients to your gums. Smoking also increases the production of cells and enzymes that can lead to gradual destruction of gums and bone over time. This leads to gum recession and Gum Disease or Periodontitis.

Thanks for reading today. I hope the article has given you more clarity on the effects of smoking on your oral health.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Dentist in Kitchener

Our Kitchener Dental Office is conveniently located in Downtown Kitchener and we are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!

This article is meant to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.

Enjoy a fresh start.
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