South Austin Dentist Discusses the Harm of Smoking

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, those who smoke are twice as likely to develop poor oral health. That is not a surprising statistic when you consider the number of oral health issues related to smoking. Some believe smoking only leads to the cosmetic issue of stained teeth and embarrassing bad breath. However, smoking also causes gum disease and oral cancer, both of which are quite serious problems.

Biofilms and Harmful Bacteria

One of the reasons smoking is so bad for you is that it kills the healthy bacteria in your mouth, leaving your gums and teeth more susceptible to the harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease. Shortly after you were born, biofilms, or thin layers of bacteria, formed in your mouth. These communities of bacteria help keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out, meaning they prevent harmful bacteria from proliferating inside your oral cavity. Because smoking kills the healthy bacteria living in these biofilms, a smoker’s mouth is more susceptible to a host of oral health issues.

Smoking and Gum Disease

A common oral health complaint smokers have is related to chronic halitosis. One might use a mouthwash to hide their halitosis and simply move on. While someone with bad breath may succeed in temporarily masking the issue, it is likely a symptom of something much worse: gum disease. Smoking leads to bad breath in two ways. First, smoking dries out your mouth, allowing nicotine and tar to settle and cause “smoker’s breath.”  Second, smoking leads to gum disease, which can also causes bad breath.

Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque, due to the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the mouth. A smoker’s mouth is already more susceptible to this condition. The effect of tobacco on gum tissue cells causes a smoker’s gums to separate from the jawbone and increase the chance of infection. This creates a perfect storm for the development of serious periodontal disease that can lead to bone and tooth loss, not to mention a host of other systemic problems throughout the rest of the body.  Dr. Van Wicklen can determine, through a routine exam, exactly what is the cause of a patient’s chronic halitosis and the extent of any gum disease.

The Leading Cause of Oral Cancer

Smoking is also the leading cause of oral cancer, contributing to more than 80 percent of mouth, nose, and throat cancer cases today. Almost 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancers yearly. Oral cancer has a survival rate of less than half, aggravated by the fact the disease is so hard to detect in its earlier stages. Additionally, the oral cancer survival rate for smokers is much lower than for non-smokers, so smoking not only increases your chances of developing the disease, but also losing your life to it.  If you are a smoker, your regular six-month exam at your South Austin dental office is crucial for the early detection of oral cancer.

Schedule an Appointment Today

If you have any questions on smoking and your oral health, or if you want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Steven Van Wicklen, please call our South Austin dentist office at (512) 448-3131 or visit us online at