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Kicking the habit? Your mouth will thank you

Kicking the habit

Larry Smith, 49, has been smoking cigarettes since he was in college. “It seemed harmless enough at the time,” he says. “I’d go out with some of my buddies on the weekends, and we’d have a few drinks, smoke a few cigarettes. Or, I’d be up late studying for an exam, and a couple of cigarettes would keep me alert enough to get through the material.”

But the years after college changed an occasional occurrence into a daily habit. “I never thought it would become a habit,” says Larry, “but here I am, more than 25 years later, smoking half a pack a day, and I just can’t seem to quit.”

Warning signs of gum disease

At Larry’s most recent dentist visit, his dentist noticed that his gums seemed redder and more inflamed than during his last visit and were starting to recede from his teeth.

“I was shocked when my dentist told me that I had gingivitis, or the early stage of gum disease. He said that because smoking may suppress the immune system and leave gums prone to infection, my smoking was most likely the cause of the problem. He also said that smokers were more than 50% more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers.”

Larry’s dentist told him that in addition to red, tender, swollen gums, the receding gums and the occasional bleeding while brushing and flossing were also signs of the beginnings of gum disease.

Smoking affects your oral health, too

While Larry, like many people, was aware of the negative impact that smoking cigarettes could have on his overall health, he says he only became aware of the effects that cigarette smoking could have on his oral health after his visit to the dentist.

In addition to contributing to gum disease, smoking can increase your risk for many other oral health problems, including:

  • Mouth pain and cavities
  • Tooth loss (twice that of non-smokers)
  • Infected tooth root (twice that of non-smokers)
  • Reduced ability to fight infection, including in the mouth and gums
  • Slower healing of gum tissue after oral surgery or from injury
  • Reduced effectiveness of gum disease treatments
  • Oral cancer

Kicking the habit

The good news is that the risk of gum disease, tooth loss and many other oral health problems decreases after you quit smoking. After learning that he was developing gum disease, Larry told his dentist he wanted to quit smoking. His dentist prescribed a transdermal nicotine patch (worn for 24 hours over several weeks with a dissipating flow of nicotine) to help him kick the habit.

There are a variety of nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) available to help people quit smoking, including nicotine gums, lozenges, sprays and inhalers. People who wish to quit smoking may also be helped by counseling and support programs. Aside from your physician and dentist, other sources for referrals to counseling and support programs include your local hospital, health department, American Cancer Society chapter (800-ACS-2345 or 800-227-2345) and the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines (800-QUIT-NOW or 800-784-8669).

You can do it

Giving up smoking isn’t easy, but many people have succeeded in quitting. Soon after you stop smoking, you may notice that food tastes better, your sense of smell is more acute and you can more easily be active without getting winded. And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re keeping your mouth — and your entire body — healthy.

Last updated: May 2015

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.