Gum disease has many causes, but smoking is a major (and preventable!) one. Here’s what you need to know.
The link between smoking and heart disease is well-documented. The American Heart Association estimates that 20 percent of the roughly 800,000 cardiovascular disease deaths yearly can be traced to tobacco. Smoking not only damages your heart — it also accounts for about 20 percent of all cancers.
But that’s not all. Did you know smoking raises your risk of gum disease, too?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers double their chance of developing gum disease or periodontitis compared to nonsmokers. Let’s review the signs of gum disease and how tobacco can cause this serious oral condition.
The causes and signs of gum disease
Gum disease (periodontitis) is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth. If bacteria isn’t removed by regular cleaning, it becomes a sticky substance known as plaque, which collects even more bacteria. Plaque can eventually form in hardened tartar that irritates the gums. While brushing and flossing eliminate most plaque and bacteria, only a dental hygienist can remove tartar.
The first signs of gum disease include tender, swollen gums and bleeding when brushing and flossing. But as the bacteria, plaque, and tartar build, the inflammation and infection spread to the gums and bone holding the teeth in place. Without intervention, gum disease can lead to tooth loss.
Moreover, if the bacteria enters the bloodstream, it can infect other organs, including the heart and lungs. Gum disease has also been linked with low birth weight and premature births. It can make controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes more difficult, too.
The link between smoking and gum disease
Along with poor oral care, smoking ranks as the top cause of gum disease, mainly because tobacco interferes with your body’s ability to counter infection. As a result, when bacteria infects your gums, your immune system cannot fight it off. This allows the bacteria to multiply and weaken the gums, leading to a loss of gum and bone tissue.
Even if you receive treatment for periodontitis (and there are plenty of therapies available!), your tobacco use will make it harder to heal from the remedies, prolonging the disease and making it harder to manage. Besides gum disease, nicotine can stain your teeth and increase the risk of tooth decay. All in all, smoking is detrimental to your oral and general health.
How to prevent gum disease
Gum disease is a serious oral health issue that can be prevented. These tips will help you achieve optimal oral health by minimizing the amount of bacteria and plaque on your teeth and gums:
Brush and floss daily. Brush with fluoride toothpaste at least twice daily to remove bacteria and plaque from your teeth and gums. Floss nightly to reach between teeth where bacteria and food particles can hide.
Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. To add an extra layer of protection against bacteria, rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash.
Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit now to protect your gums, heart, and lungs. Talk to your doctor about medications to help you stop or a smoking cessation program.
Visit your dentist regularly. A twice-annual checkup is vital in preventing gum disease. Your dentist can examine your gums for any signs of disease and start therapy. The earlier you receive treatment, the better your chance of returning your gums to health.
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