AS PARENTS, IT IS CRITICAL to make sure our children and teenagers aren’t picking up a habit as harmful as smoking. The disease we usually think of when we hear “health risks of smoking” is lung cancer, but the damage smoking can cause isn’t limited to the lungs. A smoking habit can do a lot of harm to a child’s oral health as well, far beyond merely staining the teeth and causing bad breath. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ways this can happen.
Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, begins with inflammation of the gums. If untreated, it can lead to extensive damage to gum and supporting bone tissue, and it enables bacteria to spread from the mouth all through the bloodstream. Smoking introduces hundreds of toxins into the mouth, which not only doubles the risk of developing gum disease, it makes it harder to treat.
Stomatitis Nicotina, or smoker’s keratosis, is the inflammatory swelling of mucous glands in the mouth. This shows up as thick, whitish patches on the roof of the mouth. While it is usually not painful, smoker’s keratosis can be pre-cancerous.
A staggering 80 percent of people diagnosed with oral cancer are smokers. Oral cancer affects the lips, tongue, cheeks, and throat. Early symptoms include persistent mouth sores or pain, unusual white patches in the mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing, numbness, swelling, and a sensation of something caught in the throat that won’t go away. Because many of these symptoms can be caught early at a regular dental exam, the dentist is your first line of defense against oral cancer.
If smoking is so unhealthy, then why do children and teens start doing it? Most often, they want to seem more grown up. Children are particularly likely to start smoking if they have a parent or relative they look up to who smokes, but it could also be because of peer pressure, pop culture, or defiance.
Even with everything they hear about the negative effects of smoking, children and teens don’t always believe those consequences will affect them personally, which is why it’s so important to talk to children about the effects of smoking to help kick the habit before it even starts.
The good news is that smoking is the most preventable cause of all of these dental health problems, because we can either help our children quit smoking or help them decide never to start. Even someone with a long history of smoking can significantly reduce their risk of health complications by quitting, so don’t assume there’s nothing to be gained by kicking the habit.
If you want help to quit smoking, whether for yourself or your child, there are resources all around you. Support from friends, family, and even counselors can be the best help in quitting. You can also check out the CDC’s website for tips and information. As dental care specialists, we care deeply about your child’s health, and whether or not they’re smoking, we encourage you to schedule a dental exam for them so that we can make sure their mouth is staying healthy!