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smokingSmoking has been identified as one of the most significant causes of avoidable death and disease. Smoking is the single biggest cause of ill health and premature death in the UK, killing half of all its long term users. Cigarette smoking has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes, respiratory disease, cancer and premature babies. Tobacco use kills around 106,000 people in the UK every year corresponding to more than 300 deaths every day and is responsible for around 20% of all deaths. In addition to all these, smoking is a major cause of tooth loss and severe gum (periodontal) disease.

Who Smokes?

About 12 million adults in the UK smoke cigarettes – 28% of men and 24% of women. However over the past 20 years there has been a decline in smoking. This decline though, has been heavily concentrated in older age groups as almost as many young people are taking up smoking but more established smokers are quitting.  Those living on low income are the most likely to start smoking, the least likely to quit smoking, the least likely to be able to afford to smoke and the most likely to be exposed to second hand tobacco smoke at home, at work and in leisure time.

Despite a reduction in overall smoking prevalence in the UK over the past 30 years, there has been little change among those living on low income and those who are most disadvantaged.. Among those living in greatest hardship, smoking rates are over 70% and are about 90% in homeless people sleeping rough. These high rates of smoking among excluded groups are matched by higher rates of illness such as cancer and heart disease. Premature deaths from lung cancer are five times higher in men in unskilled manual work compared with those in professional work. Health inequalities are further increased due to the large number of people in lower income groups who are exposed to other people’s cigarette smoke at work, at home and in leisure time.

Smoking can cause disease

Smoking is a risk factor for a number of illnesses. It causes 30% of all cancer deaths including at least 80% of all deaths from lung cancer. Approximately 80% of all deaths from bronchitis and emphysema and around 17% of all deaths from heart disease can also be attributed to smoking  Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of developing many of these problems. Within 10-15 years of stopping smoking, an ex-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer is only slightly greater than that of someone who has never smoked.

Smoking and Oral Health

Smoking is also linked with oral diseases such as dental decay (caries), severe gum disease (periodontal) diseases, gingival recession, oral mucosal lesions and oral cancer. Tobacco use, and especially smoking, increases the prevalence and severity of periodontal disease, and smoking 20 cigarettes or more a day amplifies the risk of developing oral cancer sixfold. Chewing tobacco and using smokeless tobacco likewise heighten the risk of developing oral cancer.

smoke-teethStaining: One of the effects of smoking is staining on the teeth due to the nicotine and tar content. It can make the teeth yellow in a very short time, and heavy smokers often complain that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking.

Gum Disease: Smoking can also lead to gum disease. Studies revealed a dose-response relationship between cigarettes smoked per day and the odds of periodontitis. (advanced gum disease involving the bone). Smokers who smoked less than half a pack per day were almost three times more likely than nonsmokers to have periodontitis. Those who smoked teethmore than a pack and a half per day had almost six times the risk. Patients who smoke are more likely to produce bacterial plaque, which leads to gum disease. The gums are affected because smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, so impairing the body’s defence mechanisms, and so the infected gums fail to heal. Smoking causes people to have more dental plaque and for gum disease to progress more rapidly than in non-smokers. Gum disease still remains the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.

Cancer: Most people know that smoking can cause lung and throat cancer, but many people are still unaware that it is one of the main causes of mouth cancer too. Every year thousands of people die from mouth cancer brought on by smoking.   Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to get an oral cancer, even if they do not inhale. This risk is compounded when combined with alcohol use. And, due to the fact that men are more likely to smoke and drink heavily for longer periods of time than females, men contract oral cancer at twice the rate of women.

Toothpaste and mouthwashes: There are special toothpastes for people who smoke. They are sometimes a little more abrasive than ordinary pastes and should be used with care. Your dentist may recommend that you use these toothpastes alternately with your usual toothpaste. There are several whitening toothpastes on the market. Although they do not affect the natural colour of your teeth, they may be effective at removing staining and therefore may improve the overall appearance of your teeth. People who smoke may find they are more likely to have bad breath than non-smokers. Fresh breath products such as mouthwashes may help to disguise the problem in the short term, but will only mask it.

Stopping Smoking

Motivated individuals can be assisted by advice from health professionals to quit smoking.   There are numerous aids to support people in smoking cessation.

Last updated: March 19, 2014

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