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Seasoned dentists like Dr. Adrian Pawlowski who specializes in periodontics, understands well how cigarette smoking can lead to a host of oral health problems. Trained in the University of Washington, this dentist in downtown Seattle has seen many cases where smoking is either directly responsible for the development of gum disease or has severely aggravated a dental condition that would have otherwise been easy to treat.

So how is smoking related to gum disease?

Periodontal Disease

Gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease, refers to any dental condition that is characterized by infection of the gums. The infection causes inflammation of the gums and other supporting tissues that surround the base of teeth. If the disease becomes worse or goes untreated, the infection will destroy the gums and attack the bone structure that holds the teeth in place causing them to fall out. The Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly half of the American population over the age of 30 has some form of periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease should never be ignored as it can lead to even worse medical conditions. A 2017 study conducted in the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University hospital suggests that the bacteria that is responsible for periodontal disease can also cause cancer. The bacteria, Treponema denticola, shares similar enzymes with the bacteria that cause gastrointestinal cancers such as pancreatic cancer. The study shows that bacteria behave in a certain way that promotes and triggers carcinogenesis.

How Cigarette Smoking Leads to Periodontal Disease

Smoking can lead to a variety of dental conditions such as bad breath, plaque buildup,  inflammation of the salivary glands and oral cancer. Since this habit has been shown to weaken the body’s immune system response, its effect inside the oral cavity is much worse. This is because smoking constantly exposes the mouth to tar and nicotine. Smoking severely impairs the ability of the gums to fight off infection and heal itself.

Studies show that smokers have a higher risk of developing the periodontal disease compared to non-smokers. The risk increases the longer and the more cigarettes that you smoke. Smoking likewise renders treatments for gum disease less effective. Some mistakenly believe that cigar and pipe smoking is safer than cigarette smoking. A 23-year study, however, shows that cigar and pipe smokers are just as prone to developing gum disease as cigarette smokers

Gum Disease Symptoms and Prevention

If you have any of the following symptoms, you may already have periodontal disease.

  • Painful swelling in your gums.
  • You feel pain when chewing.
  • Some of your teeth feel loose.
  • You have sensitive teeth.
  • Your gum bleeds easily.

 A visit to your dentist will confirm if you already have periodontal disease. In case you don’t experience any of these symptoms, it is never too early to start developing good habits that will help keep gum disease at bay.

You can prevent gum disease with the following healthy habits:

  • Brush and floss regularly.
  • Schedule a regular check-up with your dentist.
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned regularly.
  • Stop smoking.

The treatment for gum disease is quite simple and usually non-invasive. Simpler cases of periodontal disease can be treated with regular cleaning, brushing and flossing. For advanced cases, deeper cleaning and regular rinsing with prescription oral solutions may be needed. Severe cases of periodontal disease may require surgery to remove tissue and fix damaged bones.