How smoking and excessive drinking can be damaging to your oral health

Every year sees two annual campaigns run in the month of October, both promoting a healthier lifestyle. The NHS campaign Stoptober and Macmillan’s Go Sober for October. Encouraging the nation to quit smoking and give up alcohol during the month of October. Here at Revitalise Dental Centre we are always warning our customers on the risks that come with both smoking and drinking. Most people know that both can be damaging to your overall health. However, oral health is often left out of the conversation, at least until major problems begin to arise.

This month we wanted to put more emphasis on how smoking and excessive drinking can be damaging to your oral health. And how quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol can enhance your overall oral health.

Is smoking really that big a deal?

Smoking and illnesses caused from the habit are one of the biggest killers in the UK. It’s estimated that approximately 96,000 people will die each year from smoking. This means almost 1 in 5 people die from smoking related illnesses every year. Smoking increases the risk of developing over 50 life-threatening illnesses across the whole body. Oral health illnesses are not absent from the list.

Smoking can cause a range of problems affecting your oral health. The problems that can arise range from less serious ones such as teeth staining right through to life changing illnesses such as mouth cancer.

Oral Cancer and Oral Health

Cancer that affects the mouth and throat is extremely common worldwide, in 2018 there were 750,000 new cases reported. However, in the UK around 6,800 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year, making it much less common. However, this doesn’t mean you should take your chances. 70 – 90 percent of oral cancer can be linked to smoking, meaning smoking greatly increase your chances of developing the disease.

Symptoms of mouth cancer:

  • Mouth ulcers which are painful for several weeks which don’t heal
  • Lumps in the mouth which can’t be explained and don’t go away
  • Lumps in the neck which can’t be explained and don’t go away
  • Unexplainable bleeding from the mouth
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Red or white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue. In most cases these are not cancerous, however they can be early symptoms of the illness should be investigated

Gum Disease

Gum disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in adults and smoking can greatly increase your chances of the disease. The disease usually doesn’t come with pain or discomfort so many people tend to ignore the early warning signs. Things to look out for include red, swollen and bleeding gums which could indicate gum disease, sometimes referred to as Gingivitis. If left untreated the gum could become infected and as a result you could develop Periodontitis. A serious stage of gum disease which can result in permanent tooth loss.

How does smoking increase my risk of developing gum disease? Studies have shown that people who smoke have more tartar than nons-smokers, which is the cause of gum disease. Treating gum disease in smokers is much more difficult because tobacco can significantly reduce the flow of blood in the gums. As a result the healing process is hindered and the body has a harder time fighting infection.

Symptoms of Gum Disease:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth loss
  • Swollen gums
  • Receding gums

Is it too late to quit smoking?

No. It’s never too late to stop smoking and reap the health benefits that will occur as a result. Just after two days of quitting the nerve endings in your mouth will begin to grow, as a result sense of taste will drastically improve. The gums over time will begin to become much healthier, normal healing and repair will start to occur. As a result the ability to fight off infections from plaque build up will greatly improve.

As you are probably aware smoking causes bad breath and staining to the teeth. However, once you quit smoking there are treatments available to reverse the effects of staining and brighten your smile. This can be achieved through professional teeth whitening, one of the services we offer here at Revitalise Dental Centre. Abrasive toothpastes are also available which gently polish the teeth to improve the colour of your teeth.

What about the chances of developing cancer? It’s reported after 3 – 5 years you are 50 percent less likely to develop oral cancer after you decide to quit smoking. Although it doesn’t completely remove the possibility of developing cancer, it does reduces it drastically. For this reason, however, it is important to continue to have regular check ups with your dentist so they can check for any irregularities that might be related to the illness.

How does Alcohol affect oral health?

Drinking excessive alcohol over the recommended limit can increase your chances of developing life threatening illnesses as well as other health complications. Reducing your risk of developing these complications is as simple as cutting back on how much you drink. You can join thousands across the nation and take part in this months Go Sober For October campaign. However, if you don’t want to completely give up the drink this October staying within the weekly limit recommendations is a great place to start.

Oral and throat Cancer

Most people are probably aware that drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood of developing illnesses such as liver and bowel cancer. However, did you know that there are cancers related to the mouth and throat that can be caused by drinking? Oral cancer and oropharynx cancer (upper throat) are two types of cancer that can develop in the mouth.

When we consume alcohol a chemical called acetaldehyde is produced which can cause damage to DNA and prevent cells from repairing the damage. Usually, when DNA is damaged cells are good at repairing them. However, over time the more damage that has occurred the harder it is for your cells to repair your DNA to normal. As a result the cells begin to grow too fast and mutate, potentially forming cancer cells.

Symptoms of Throat cancer:

  • Sore throat
  • A persistent cough
  • Changes in the voice
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Ear pain
  • A Lump in the throat which can’t be explained and won’t go away

 

Gum disease

Did you know that just one drink can have an affect on your oral health? Bacteria in the mouth plays a vital role in the health and longevity of your teeth. However, alcohol causes a bacterial imbalance which prevents the immune system and the bacteria itself from doing its job effectively. As a result, bacteria can build up, ultimately leading to gum disease. And as we discussed earlier, if left untreated could result in permanent tooth loss.

If you do enjoy a drink from time to time it’s important to enjoy it in moderation. However, if you do go a little over the top, it’s important to remember to clean your teeth before you go to bed. Giving your teeth a good clean decreases the chances of bacteria building up and helps stabilise the bacteria. Keep in mind however, even drinking within the limits can increase your chances of developing gum disease and cancer.

What if I drink and smoke – is my oral health at a higher risk?

Smoking and excessive drinking together puts your oral health at an even higher risk of developing any of the complications mentioned above. This is because the two combined cause more damage to cells in the body than one alone. When the chemical acetaldehyde is produced from drinking and begins to damage the cells found in the mouth, absorption of dangerous substances from smoking is increased. A combination of smoking and drinking is dangerous to your oral health but there are ways you can cut back.

In Summary

We understand that quitting smoking is no easy task. That’s why we believe Stoptober is the perfect opportunity to take that step. You will be joining 1000s of people across the nation kick the habit. You could also do it with a friend and support each other. If you take up the challenge you will go 28 days without smoking. And if you manage to complete last the whole campaign you are five times more likely to quit for good.

The NHS have a range of resources to support you this Stoptober including their official app available on both Android and iOS, daily support emails, community groups and a personal quit plan.

If you’re also interested in cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink, why not get involved with Go Sober For October? You could also take this opportunity to raise some money to support people living with cancer. Macmillan have a range of ideas to help you get started.

Find out more

The team at Revitalise are here to support you in your journey to improving your oral health. If you are worried about the effects smoking and drinking has had on your oral health, book in for a free consultation and discover how the team at Revitalise Dental Centre can help.

About the author

Author

Martin Docking is the Founder of Revitalise Dental Centre. Widely recognised as a leading Clinical Dental Technician Martin has a passion for embracing new skills, techniques and materials to deliver the best products, service and patient care.

Connect with Martin Docking on LinkedIn.

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