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Most people know about the myriad of negative effects smoking can have on their health. Smokers are often more likely to be affected by a wide range of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and lunch disease. What is less known is that periodontal disease is another major health problem which is highly influenced by smoking. Here, we’ll look at the ways in which smoking has been linked to periodontal disease and some of the possible reasons for this relationship.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease actually includes to a number of diseases that affect the periodontium. The periodontium refers to the specialized tissues that surround and support the teeth. There are four types of tissues in the periodontium: the alvelolar bone, the cementum, the gingiva or gums, and the periodontal ligament. Periodontal disease attacks the alveolar bone around the teeth, which can cause the loosening and loss of the teeth. Periodontal disease is usually linked to, and preceded by, gingivitis. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums, and is caused to bacteria build-up, or plaque, on tooth surfaces. If left untreated, gingivitis will often become periodontitis, or severe gum disease. Some of the symptoms of periodontitis include redness or bleeding of gums, gum swelling, bad breath, deep pockets between the gums and loose teeth.

How Are Smoking and Periodontal Disease Related?

Smoking has been identified as one of the biggest risk factors in developing periodontitis. According to the University of Minnesota’s Division of Periodontology, current and previous smokers have an increased prevalence and severity of periodontal diseases, and even those with a low level of smoking have been shown to have poorer periodontal health than those who have never smoked at all.

The relationship between periodontal disease and smoking extends beyond tobacco cigarette smoking. For example, cannabis smokers have also been found to have higher rates of the disease than non-smokers, and those who smoke cigars or pipes also suffer from adverse effects on their periodontal health.

The University of Adelaide Dental Practice Education Research Unit also points out that there is more bone loss for smokers, and that there is evidence to suggest that periodontitis progresses more quickly in smokers.

For those who have been identified to have periodontal disease and are being treated, is has been shown that smoking has a negative effect on recovery times for those who have received both surgical and non-surgical treatments. This is because smoking impairs the healing of the periodontal areas. On a related note, those who need dental implants to replace teeth that may have been lost due to periodontal disease also have lower success rates of recovering from severe gum disease.

Why Does Smoking Encourage Periodontitis?

Again, according to the research unit at the University of Adelaide, the practice of smoking minimizes the normal symptoms of periodontal disease, such as bleeding and redness. As a result, periodontal disease often goes unnoticed by smokers until it has reached an advanced stage, meaning that when it is noticed, irreversible damage has already been done to the gums.

Also, smoking reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. Consequently, the antibodies necessary to fight periodontitis are reduced, giving plaque and other oral diseases a higher chance of flourishing. Not only that, but smoking decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the tissues, thereby lessening their ability to stave off infection. And finally, smoking (especially cigarettes) has a particularly toxic effect on fibroblasts, which are cells responsible for the construction of new connective tissues. As a result of the toxicity, these cells are either killed or made less effective, which allows gum disease to progress even more quickly.

Judging by all the evidence, it is obvious that smoking has a clear detrimental effect on good oral health. Smokers are more likely to experience periodontal diseases and are also more likely to recover at a much slower rate, if at all. Thankfully, there is hope for those who are willing to kick the habit. It has been shown that after a period of time, the chances of getting periodontal disease returned to the same for smokers as it was for non-smokers. However, it would take several years in order to return to the pre-smoking state. For good oral health, the best idea is simply not to light up at all!