Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This column was published in the Gettysburg Times on Jan. 21, 2021
More than 16 million American adults are living with a disease caused by cigarette smoking. In today’s column, I’m encouraging anyone who smokes to please make regular dental visits a priority in 2021, and I’ll explain why.
First, let’s talk about the diseases affecting those 16 million Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those conditions include head, neck and oral cancer, gum disease and recession, tooth decay, bone loss, failure of dental implants, stained teeth and more.
If you are (or someone you love is) a smoker, I cannot overstate the importance of regular dental checkups. That’s because the first adverse health effects as a result of tobacco products often show up in the mouth, which means dental professionals are often the first to notice the health effects of smoking. And early diagnosis and treatment can have life-saving results.
For example, more than 40% of smokers aged 20-64 years have untreated tooth decay. And 34% of smokers over the age of 64 are also experiencing tooth decay. These are large swathes of our population, and it pains me to think about their suffering because tooth decay is preventable and treatable.
How does smoking initially affect your dental health? Simply put, smoking weakens your body’s immune system. This, in turn, makes it harder to fight off infections such as gum infections.
Here are a few additional statistics demonstrating the impact smoking has on dental health:
- Smokers are at twice the risk for gum disease compared to nonsmokers.
- Between 2011–2016, 43% of adults over 65 who smoked cigarettes lost all their teeth, compared to just 12% of those who never smoked cigarettes.
The statistics point to smoking and tobacco use as the cause of one out of every five deaths in the U.S. That’s 480,000 deaths every year. But you may find this additional fact surprising: Of those 480,000 deaths, an estimated 41,000 are people who may not have ever smoked or used tobacco products. And how is this possible? About 41,000 people die every year due to secondhand smoke (exposure to smoke).
The bottom line is this: Smoking and tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
Ultimately, as a health professional, I advocate for patients to quit smoking. This is one of the best, most impactful health decisions you can ever make. And considering the potential for secondhand smoke, it’s also a decision that can improve your loved ones’ health.
As we begin 2021, deciding to quit could be one of the most life-changing decisions you’ll ever make. I truly wish you all the best—you can do it.
Dr. Rita Tempel is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and owner of Gettysburg Smiles Cosmetic & Family Dentistry as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and owner of Sweet Dreams Gettysburg, 2018 York Road, Gettysburg. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow @ritatempeldds on Instagram, or like her Facebook page @Gettysburgsmiles or call 717-339-0033.