National Lung Cancer Awareness
National Lung Cancer Awareness Month raises much needed attention to the topic of tobacco use and the many oral health risks of smoking. While smoking is directly correlated with lung cancer, it is also tightly linked to many serious dental conditions including oral cancer. This year, in honor of National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we want to shine light on the affects of smoking on our oral health, and its importance as we age.
Tobacco use in Adults
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 42.1 million people, or 18.1 percent of all adults in the United States smoke cigarettes.
The American Cancer Society estimates in 2015 about 221,200 new cases of lung cancer and 158,040 deaths from lung cancer will occur. Lung cancer amounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths and is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women. About 2 out of 3 people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older.
Oral Health Side Effects
Smoking can lead to stained teeth and tongue, bad breathe, dulled sense of taste and smell, gum disease, tooth loss, slow healing after surgical procedures, and most severe, oral cancer, which can spread to the lips, tongue, mouth and throat.
Your teeth become stained due to the nicotine and tar in the tobacco. After years of smoking your teeth can become almost brown. People who smoke are generally more likely to produce bacterial plaque, which leads to gum disease. Smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream so the infected gums are unable to heal. In addition, smoking affects your immune system, which leads smokers to have weaker defenses against infections like gum disease. Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.
Smoking and Oral Cancer
Most people know that smoking can cause lung and throat cancer, but it is actually one of the main causes of oral cancer as well. Cancer can appear in the mouth, and then affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. Oral cancer is more common in people over 40, particularly men. There are more than 640,000 cases of mouth cancer diagnosed each year worldwide and it’s the eleventh most common cancer. Most cases of mouth cancer are linked to tobacco and alcohol, which includes chewing tobacco, cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking.
Smokeless Tobacco Is Equally As Harmful
Smokeless tobacco products are not any safer. Smokeless tobacco products such as snuff and chewing tobacco contain at least 28 chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer, cancer of the throat, and cancer of the esophagus. Chewing tobacco and snuff both contain higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, which make it harder to quit. Smokeless tobacco irritates gum tissue, which causes it to recede from your teeth. Once the gum tissue recedes, your teeth roots are exposed, increasing risk of tooth decay. In addition, exposed roots are more sensitive to hot and cold, which makes eating and drinking uncomfortable.
A study conducted in 2003, the Canadian Community Health Survey, which was a multistage, nationwide household survey, asked a series of questions related to oral health status. Current smokers were more likely to report oral health problems compared with people who had never smoked. Current smokers also reported sensitivity of teeth to hot or cold, toothache and pain in the mouth or face near the mouth. Current smokers were also more likely to report denture use and social limitations because of their teeth.
How Can I keep My Mouth Healthy?
Take steps to quit smoking such as a nicotine patch or gum, and cutting back on sugars that feed the bacteria in cigarettes. Improve your oral hygiene with regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash. In addition to a new oral hygiene routine, you should get a professional cleaning. This will help remove plaque and tartar that you are unable to get yourself. Dr. Newman can perform an Oral Cancer Screening, which helps him identify abnormal tissue that may develop into oral cancer. The exam is painless, fast, and could help save your life.