Secondhand Smoke and Your Smile


Smokers are at higher risk for all manner of oral health issues—they heal more slowly from dental surgery, are at increased risk for gum disease, and have increased susceptibility to oral cancer, among other conditions. However, scientific research indicates that it isn’t just the smokers themselves whose mouths suffer from their habit. Secondhand smoke can cause many of the same dental health issues in smokers’ families and friends who become exposed to the noxious fumes of cigarettes. In honor of this Sunday’s World No Tobacco Day holiday, we discuss the dental dangers of secondhand smoke below and explain what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Why is Secondhand Smoke Detrimental?

Smokers and their loved ones sometimes mistakenly believe that the negative effects of smoking are limited to the person actively puffing on the cigarette, but this is not the case. The American Cancer Society explains: “when non-smokers are exposed to SHS [secondhand smoke] it’s called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. Non-smokers who breathe in SHS take in nicotine and toxic chemicals by the same route smokers do. The more SHS you breathe, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in your body.” The hazards of smoking ripple outward to everyone around the smoker. These effects are especially harmful and heartbreaking for children, whose bodies (including their teeth and gums) are still developing.

Oral Health Concerns from Secondhand Smoke

Inhaling toxic cigar and cigarette fumes can increase your risk for numerous oral health issues, including:

·      Gum disease. Periodontal infection occurs when bacteria-filled plaque accumulates underneath your gums, disrupting the tissue. Gum disease can lead to bleeding, pockets of uncomfortable infection, and even tooth loss if left untreated. Secondhand smoking stunts the production of healthy periodontal tissue, exacerbating gum disease. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that: “those exposed to secondhand smoke had a higher prevalence of severe periodontitis [the type of gum disease that attacks oral bone and connective tissue, which destabilizes teeth], after controlling for known risk indicators for periodontal disease.”

·      Bone loss. The hazardous chemicals and compounds in secondhand smoke can also deteriorate oral bone tissue. A 2007 study by the American Academy of Periodontology found that rats that were exposed to 30 days of secondhand smoke had a higher rate of bone loss than those who were not.

·      Decay. Secondhand smoke can also compromise your body’s ability to fight cavities, increasing your susceptibility to decay. This is unfortunately especially true for children whose parents smoke. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study of approximately 4,000 children and found that, of those who suffered from caries, about half of them had cotine in their bloodstream, indicating they were frequently exposed to secondhand smoke. This translates to a 27 percent higher risk of cavities for kids who are forced to inhale secondhand smoke at home and in public places.

·      Oral cancer. Cigar and cigarette smoke contains dozens of carcinogens, so secondhand smoke exposure also increases the risk for oral cancer, a disease that causes more than 8,000 deaths per year, according to The Oral Cancer Foundation.

Lowering Your Risks

The number one way you can reduce your risks for secondhand smoke-related dental damage is to steer clear of these hazardous fumes whenever possible. If you smoke, quitting this habit could allow you to preserve your and your loved ones’ health. If you live with or are often around smokers, encourage them to smoke outside whenever possible, use air cleaners, and avoid being around them when they smoke.

You can also maintain and improve your dental health by coming in for regular cleanings and examinations with Dr. Flanagan. These appointments will allow her to spot and correct any troubling symptoms before they worsen. Dr. Flanagan will screen your mouth for cavities, gum disease, and even oral cancer at your biannual appointments. She can also provide helpful oral hygiene tips and lifestyle suggestions to further enhance your dental health.

Safeguard Your Smile from Secondhand Smoke

World No Tobacco Day is a great time to improve your awareness about the effects of secondhand smoke and do everything you can to steer clear of it. Contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S. to learn more about your oral health or schedule an appointment.

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