Whether you enjoy an occasional cigar or multiple daily smoke breaks, you know that tobacco use isn't good for your lungs. However, your lungs aren't the only part of your body that are at risk when you use tobacco—your mouth and gums are as well. However, the symptoms of the periodontal diseases caused by tobacco are, for the most part, very odd. If you're suffering from any of the symptoms correlated to these three diseases, then it's time to kick your habit (if you haven't already) and visit your dentist:
Leukoplakia is a periodontal disease that typically affects the gums. This disease begins with the formation of one or several white, hard patches that appear similar to sores. For this reason, many people shrug off the initial patches of leukoplakia as canker sores. However, leukoplakia can form on or under your tongue, along the sides of your mouth, or directly on your gums and remain in place for years.
Although leukoplakia patches may start out looking like harmless (but irritating) canker sores, they won't feel like them. Leukoplakia patches aren't typically painful in the early stages. Instead, they feel more like plaque buildup on the soft membranes throughout your mouth. However, as leukoplakia patches continue to grow, they will disrupt your smoking, eating, and drinking habits.
Leukoplakia is particularly troubling because it's an early indicator of oral cancer. Tissues affected by leukoplakia have a decreased chance of fighting off cancerous cells. For this reason, leukoplakia patients have up to a 20% increased chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma (a version of oral cancer) in the same tissues affected by leukoplakia.
Symptoms of leukoplakia can easily be confused with other less-threatening diseases. If you suspect that you are currently experiencing symptoms of leukoplakia, then your best option is to undergo a biopsy to confirm or deny the presence of potentially cancerous tissue.
Nicotine present in tobacco smoke is not only absorbed by your lungs, but by your gums and oral membranes as well. Nicotine absorption through your gums decreases blood flow as it constricts blood vessels. As a result, your gums will become swollen.
However, aside from blood vessel constriction, tobacco users have an increased risk of developing gingivitis as a result of greater gingival crevicular fluid production.
Gingival crevicular fluid is naturally secreted by your gums to keep your gums moist and hydrated—which allows your gums to heal small cuts or sores as fast as possible. However, after experiencing frequent blood flow constriction due to regular nicotine absorption, the vessels in your gums that secrete gingival crevicular fluid can sustain long-term damage that alters their ability to secrete a regular amount of fluid.
Although greater gingival crevicular fluid production may initially seem like a good thing, it's not. The downside of increased fluid secretion is that bacteria present in your mouth can thrive in the fluid when it would normally die due to lack of oxygen or nutrients. As a result of increased bacteria growth, your gums become more susceptible to developing gingivitis while secreting increased amounts of crevicular fluid.
To keep your taste buds intact, your tongue produces keratin—the same substance that composes your fingernails. Keratin protects your taste buds from being damaged by hard foods or hot drinks. The reason your tongue doesn't feel like a huge, oral fingernail is that any keratin present on your tongue is broken and consumed during regular eating. However, irritation from tobacco use (specifically the heat that's inhaled during the smoking process) can cause your tongue to produce more keratin.
Although increased keratin production on your tongue isn't a hazard to your health, it can make for uncomfortable or awkward eating process.
If you suspect that you have developed the symptoms associated with leukoplakia, gingivitis, or a coated tongue, then make an appointment with your dentist right away to determine the best course of action. Additionally, you should take these diseases as a sign that it's time for you to stop or severely reduce your tobacco consumption. For more information, go to sites that specialize in explaining gum disease.