Can Quitting Cigarettes Cause Dental Problems?
If you're a smoker, you've probably heard plenty of times that cigarettes affect not just your lungs, but your oral health as well. And it's true. Smoking stains your teeth, hurts your gums, and leaves you with bad breath. Quitting smoking can go a long way to improve all aspects of your health, including your oral health. But what about the tools that you use to help you quit smoking, like e-cigarettes, nicotine gum, or prescription medication? Can they affect your teeth and oral health? Take a look at what you need to know about how commonly-used stop-smoking aids may affect your teeth.
Nicotine gum can be a convenient replacement for cigarettes. While some stop-smoking aids, like nicotine patches, rely on a steady stream of nicotine to keep cravings away, nicotine gum can be used whenever a craving hits, much like cigarettes themselves. Unlike regular gum, nicotine gum must be chewed slowly, so that the nicotine can be absorbed through the tissue on the inside of the cheek. In between chews, the user keeps the gum stored between their cheek and gum.
While nicotine can be effective as a smoking aid, it can also exacerbate some dental problems. For example, a dental patient suffering from TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction) may experience additional pain because of all of the excess chewing. The nicotine can also cause irritation in the mouth which can lead to ulcers, gingivitis, and inflammation of the tongue and the inside of the mouth. Furthermore, while nicotine gum is not intended for long-term use, it does contain nicotine, which is addictive, and some users may have trouble quitting the gum. Long-term use of nicotine gum is associated with complaints of tooth damage and tooth loss.
While this doesn't mean that you shouldn't use nicotine gum if that's what it takes to help you quit smoking, it does mean that you may need additional dental monitoring while you're using nicotine gum.
Although electronic cigarettes aren't designated as smoking cessation aids by the FDA, many people buy them with the intention of using them to quit smoking. E-cigarette users inhale flavored, nicotine-infused vapor through a battery-powered cigarette substitute. This is called vaping.
What e-cigarette users need to know is that they're largely on their own when it comes to the efficacy of vaping as a smoking cessation strategy and the safety of e-cigs. Because e-cigs are relatively new on the scene, there have not yet been a lot of studies on the long-term effects of vaping, or the effects of absorbing nicotine in this manner. However, what is known is that e-cigs do contain nicotine, and nicotine is linked to gingivitis. One recent study shows that it's not just the nicotine that you have to worry about, either. A University of Rochester Medical Center study showed that not only are e-cigarettes about as harmful to your oral health as ordinary cigarettes, it also showed that the flavorings used in the e-liquid used to produce vapor can be problematic, with some flavors causing more harm to the mouth than others.
While vaping may seem like a convenient and even fun substitute for cigarettes, users should exercise caution, and be aware that e-cigs are not necessarily effective smoking cessation device, and do contain nicotine and other ingredients that can harm oral health.
Your doctor may prescribe medication that helps you quit smoking. A common choice is a drug with the generic name varenicline. This medicine stimulates your nicotine receptors, which reduces withdrawal symptoms and also lessens your interest in cigarettes. One of the commonly observed side effects of this medication is dry mouth.
Dry mouth sounds like a minor symptom, and it usually is. However, if your mouth is often dry, then you could be more likely to develop cavities. Your saliva neutralizes acids that can harm your enamel and washes away food particles and bacteria that cause decay. Dry mouth can also create conditions favorable for fungal infections, like thrush, and mouth sores.
If you experience dry mouth while taking medication for smoking cessation, you may need to increase your water intake or start chewing sugarless gum to stimulate saliva production. Your dentist may be able to recommend moisture replacement products that can help. If the problem is severe, mention it to your doctor – they may need to adjust your dosage or change your medication.
In the long run, quitting smoking is going to be better for your dental and overall health no matter how you choose to quit. But discussing smoking cessation strategies with your local dentist can help you avoid side effects of quitting that are harmful to your oral health.