The good news? Tobacco use has reached an historic low. The bad news? Vaping (using electronic cigarettes filled with juice or nicotine salt) and marijuana use are climbing. Vaping may not be as harmful as cigarettes, Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Michael Blaha noted, “but it’s still not safe.” Cannabis, meanwhile, has proven to yield a host of therapeutic and medical benefits, particularly among patients with cancer, AIDS, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, or other neurodegenerative diseases. Health officials like the FDA have approved cannabis for medical use. Harvard researchers prefer CBD and medical marijuana as safer options than opiates. But weed, too, is not without its unknowns and risks. The reality is that any form of smoking presents big challenges in maintaining proper oral health.
Peering Through the Smoke Screen
Cigarettes and Tobacco
“Current smoking has declined from 20.9% (nearly 21 of every 100 adults) in 2005 to 12.5% (nearly 13 of every 100 adults) in 2020,” according to the most current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That represents a “decline of approximately two-thirds in the more than 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report warned of the health consequences of smoking.”
Cigarette smoking has a storied and lurid history of health-related pitfalls. There really are no positive health effects to be gained by tobacco use. If anything, smoking amounts to little more than elevated health risks, as CDC estimates demonstrate:
- For coronary heart disease, risks increase by 2 to 4 times; for stroke, by 2 to 4 times
- Men are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer if they smoke
- Women are 25.7 times more likely to develop lung cancer if they smoke
“Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost,” CDC concluded. Even puffing one ciggie a week dramatically increases a person’s susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, cancer, poor bone health, trouble with fertility and pregnancy, diabetes, decreased immune function, and rheumatoid arthritis.
As awareness of the dangers of smoking spread across society, so did the habit’s decline. Unfortunately, that also led to a rise in vaping, which electronic cigarette manufacturers promoted as a safer alternative.
“There’s almost no doubt that vaping exposes you to fewer toxic chemicals than smoking traditional cigarettes,” Dr. Blaha wrote. But in the same article for Johns Hopkins Medicine, Blaha also pointed out a less rosy scenario: “Research from The Johns Hopkins University on vape ingredients published in October 2021 reveals thousands of chemical ingredients in vape products, most of which are not yet identified. Among those the team could identify were several potentially harmful substances, including caffeine, three chemicals never previously found in e-cigarettes, a pesticide and two flavorings linked with possible toxic effects and respiratory irritation.”
Then there’s pot, which is to many recreational users a “harmless giggle” as John Lennon quipped, and a potential pharmacological boon to medical researchers. In many ways, cigarettes, vapes, and your ex-roommate’s “kind bud” are different, apart from the actual smoke they rely on as a transport mechanism for their substances. Yet all three products have one big thing in common: they all contribute to oral health and dental problems.
Smoking and Oral Health
People who smoke are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. They’re also more likely to experience complications such as dry socket after extractions or oral surgeries.
The most common oral problems affecting smokers include:
- Gum (or periodontal) disease
- Oral cancer
- Whitening of the soft tissue in the mouth (called smoker’s keratosis)
- Poor healing after tooth removal (dry socket)
- Tooth decay
- Tooth loss
- Poor healing after mouth and gum surgery
- Decreased taste
- Bad breath (halitosis)
Blende Dental Group’s Dr. Lindzy Goodman explained that dry mouth is perhaps the biggest oral health issue caused by smoking, outside of cancer. Also known as cottonmouth, and technically called xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when salivary glands fail to produce sufficient saliva to keep the mouth moist. Dry mouth is a leading culprit in the cause of dental complications, akin to “meth mouth.” Common adverse effects include:
- Increased plaque
- Rampant decay, often gum line decay
- Mouth sores
- Oral yeast infections (thrush)
- Sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth
- Cracked lips
- Poor nutrition resulting from related difficulties with chewing and swallowing
The American Dental Association pointed out that “reduced salivary flow can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing, and speaking; it can also increase the chance of developing dental decay, demineralization of teeth, tooth sensitivity, and/or oral infections.”
Apart from this, cannabis use can also hinder efforts at maintaining oral hygiene routines. People who use marijuana to relax or sleep may forget to brush and floss before going to bed in the haze of their relaxed state. This can be especially troublesome when combined with the munchies. Pot’s active ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol, or TCH, which stimulates the part of the brain responsible for influencing appetite. This is why many who partake in the drug develop cravings for salty, sweet, or fatty carbohydrate-rich foods. But falling asleep with food particles left in the teeth becomes a sure-fire recipe for dental problems.
Oral Health Tips for Smokers
Of course, the best advice for smokers is to quit. People who stop smoking ultimately reduce their dental risks to the same level as non-smokers. For those who have no desire to kick the habit, there are some things you can do to mitigate tooth and gum problems.
- Try to reduce the amount of smoking you undertake in a day.
- Clean your teeth and gums twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss or interdental brushes once a day to clean between your teeth.
- Visit the dentist every 6 to 12 months. They can provide advice about the proper care of your teeth and gums while detecting prospective problems early.
- Avoid dry mouth. Drink plenty of water and keep water nearby when partaking in any kind of smoking to stimulate saliva flow. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help induce the production of saliva.
For more tips or an examination to assess the state of your oral health, get in touch with the Blende Dental Group today.