Effects of smoking on the body

HOW DOES SMOKING AFFECT YOUR BODY?

Knowing about long term effects of smoking sometimes is not enough to make you quit. You probably know smoking causes cancer even before you reach for a cigarette, especially as it may take decades to develop the disease.

 I have stopped smoking almost 10 years ago; I was always involved in a medical field before I started developing my knowledge about the teeth, and oral health in general. Yet, simple message SMOKING KILLS was not enough - I enjoyed a cigarette while at home or out with friends; I had to experience the effects of the 8-year long social style myself to become desperate to stop others from picking up or continuing the habit.  

I was short of breath while climbing up the stairs, even though I smoked 8 cigarettes a day; the bone around my teeth has been affected, and yes, combined with my susceptibly to periodontal problems I have bone loss around the roots of my teeth. I now enjoy the fact my skin, blood, lungs are clean and clear of the toxins contained in the cigarette smoke. 

ORAL HEALTH:

PERIODONTAL DISEASE

People who smoke are more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease. It is an infection of the gums and may affect the bone structure that supports the teeth. Smoking is an important and modifiable factor contributing to the development of severe gum disease. 

Early stage of gum disease

Early stage of gum disease

The bacteria on your teeth get under the gums. If the bacteria stay on the teeth for too long, bacterial plaque forms leading to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and buildup of tartar. When gum disease gets worse, the bacteria destroy the bond between the tooth and the gum and a space where infection develops, is created.

The bone and tissues that hold the teeth in place can then break down and this may lead to teeth mobility. Smoking weakens the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off a gum infection. Also, if your gums are already damaged by periodontal (gum) disease, smoking makes it harder for the gums to heal. 

 

  • smokers have greater risk (by two to six times) of developing gum disease than non-smoker
  • the more cigarettes you smoke, the greater you risk of gum disease 
  • the risk of gum disease increases with the duration of the smoking habit
  • the severity of existing gum disease is worsened by smoking
  • treatment for gum disease may be unsuccessful in people who smoke
  • placement of a dental implant may be unsuccessful in people who smoke

 

Periodontal disease results in tooth mobility and tooth loss,

MOUTH CANCER

Smoking is the leading cause of mouth, tongue, lip and throat cancer. These cancers usually result in major surgery, difficulties in eating, swallowing and speaking as well as disfigurements. Mouth cancer can be successfully treated if detected at an early stage, but very difficult to treat if detected late - regular dental checkups are essential even if you don't smoke. 

Smoking cessation can significantly reduce the risk of oral cancer, and the risk is reduced by half five years after quitting. 

IMPAIRED HEALING AFTER SURGERY

Smoking reduces the ability to heal after oral surgery as well as healing any injured tissues, e.g. mouth ulcers

BAD BREATH

People who smoke are more likely to develop persistent bad breath that those who do not. It also stains the tongue. 

ALTERED TASTE

Smoking may decrease the ability to taste. Quitting smoking can help restore the sense of taste within five days.

STAINED TEETH

Yellow, stained teeth are an obvious cosmetic side-effect of smoking, quitting, scaling and polishing followed by teeth whitening can sometimes help to reverse those effects of smoking. 

LUNGS AND UPPER AIRWAYS

As well as nicotine, tobacco smoke contains more tan 4,000 dangerous chemicals, such as tar, carbon monoxide, benzene and oxidant gases. They're poisonous and contain carcinogens - chemicals that cause cancer. 

tar is deposited in the lungs

Tar is deposited in the lungs when you breathe in tobacco smoke. It is a brown sticky substance that slows down and destroys cilia - tiny hears lining the upper airways; cilia help to protect lungs from infections by sweeping away germs and other substances. When cilia are damaged, tar can penetrate deeper into the lungs causing more damage. 

Some of the tar is absorbed by the lungs and causes lung cells to die.

Immediate effects from damage to the lungs include coughing and shortness of breath; long term damage to the lungs may lead to other complications such as asthma, bronchitis, chest infections and lung cancer. Duration of smoking is an important risk factor, but the good news is that stopping smoking reduces the risk of lung cancer.

Carbon monoxide binds to heamoglobin - a protein responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. Someone who smokes is likely to  get tired and become short of breath quickly as less oxygen is carried around the body.

CANCER

Smoking is the leading cause of mouth and throat as well as lung cancer. 

But benzene contained in tobacco smoke damages cells on the genetic level causing changes that may lead to other cancers, such as leukaemia or kidney cancer.  

HEART DISEASE

Smoking is the most common cause of heart disease and stroke. Smokers are twice as likely to get a heart attack as someone who never smoked. 

Oxidant gases from tobacco smoke react with oxygen making blood more likely to clot which increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.

smoking may lead to heart attack

smoking may lead to heart attack

Cigarette smoke damages the cells lining the blood vessels and makes blood clots more likely to form.

Smoking also contributes to fat buildup in the inner lining of the blood vessels as it seems to help 'bad' cholesterol to deposit in the blood vessels. The fat deposits narrow the blood vessels and cause scarring.

Narrowing and clogging of the arteries reduces blood supply and the amount of oxygen available throughout the body, including the heart and brain.

AGEING 

The lack of oxygen and nutrients reaching the skin damages collagen and elastin, making ski look saggy and uneven in colour. 

PREGNANCY

Smoking is a major risk factor contributing to pregnancy complications.

smoking reduces the amount of essential oxygen and nutrients an unborn baby needs

smoking reduces the amount of essential oxygen and nutrients an unborn baby needs

Tobacco and over 4,000 poisonous chemicals cause long-term damage to the lungs, brain and blood of an unborn child and can cause pregnancy emergencies, as the amount of oxygen and essential nutrients that an unborn baby needs for a healthy physical and mental development, is reduced. 

BENEFITS OF QUITTING

stop smoking
  • 12 hours : almost all of the nicotine is out of the system
  • 24 hours : you have more oxygen in the system because the level of carbon monoxide has dropped
  • 5 days : most nicotine by-products are gone; the sense of taste and smell improves
  • 1 month : blood pressure returns to normal, immune system shows signs of recovery
  • 12 months : the risk of dying from heart disease is halve that of continuing smoker
  • 10 years : the risk of lung cancer is less than half of that of continuing smoker
  • 15 years : risk of stroke and heart attack almost the same as that of a person who never smoked

 

RESOURCES 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Cancer Research U.K. 

Australian Government Department of Health


Illustrations by Rachael Yap