I started smoking in high school. I was around sixteen, and at the time I had a straight set of white teeth. People constantly complimented me on them. Though I’d been warned that smoking was bad for my teeth, I didn’t listen.

I got my first tooth infection when I was twenty-six. At the time, I thought I was too young for gum disease (though I would later learn that young people are susceptible to it as well as older people). Prior to my tooth infection, I had occasionally noticed a little blood in the sink after brushing my teeth, though I continued to brush and didn’t think much of it.

Growing up as the daughter of poultry plant workers, we didn’t have much money for dentists, and so I’d rarely gotten my dental check-ups and cleanings as a child. When I went in to see the dentist about my infected tooth, she said I was in the early stages of periodontal disease and that if I didn’t take better care of my teeth I would lose them. She put me on an antibiotic and pain reliever for my tooth, but ultimately she couldn’t save the tooth and it had to be extracted.

I was more concerned with the look of my teeth than the functionality of them. I didn’t worry about my bite or having to adjust my mouth to chew with a missing tooth. Instead, I worried about what people would think if I opened my mouth too wide and revealed that I was missing one of my back teeth. I felt ashamed. Even worse, I didn’t have the money to fix the problem. My dentist said I would need a dental implant, which is a false tooth made in a lab and hooked to a screw in the gums. Dental implants have the look of natural teeth, which was exactly what I wanted to hide the space where my tooth was missing. Still, the implant cost several thousand dollars, more money than I had as a graduate student.

Finally, I finished graduate school and got a full-time job. This job came with dental insurance and a much bigger paycheck than I’d ever received before. With this money, I was able to buy the dental implant.

I live in north Georgia, and my local Cumming dentist has taught me a lot about prevention. Since getting my implant, I’ve begun to floss much more regularly, which was something I’d previously been neglecting to do. For the past several years, I’ve had dental checkups twice yearly and also had my teeth cleaned and scaled every year. This cleaning process helps remove tartar. Tartar is made up of bacteria and food particles that have hardened. When this tartar gets between the teeth and gums, it can lead to tooth loss. I truly believe that having my tartar removed by a dentist has helped to save my other teeth. I’m thirty-six now and so far I haven’t lost any other teeth, though I’ve had the occasional cavity.

My dentist also informed me about all of the health hazards caused by cigarettes. I already knew about my increased risk of heart disease and cancer, but I was ignorant about all the damage cigarettes could cause to my teeth. The dentist informed me that a smoker’s teeth are often discolored by tobacco stains. Smoker’s teeth are also susceptible to the following:

  • Gum disease
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Impaired blood flow to gums
  • Increased risk of oral cancer
  • Increased risk of tartar buildup

I gradually gave up cigarettes, though it took me two years to completely stop. I was lucky that cigarettes didn’t do enough damage to impact the healing of my gums after dental implant surgery. I’ve read that some smokers heal more slowly due to bone loss in the jaw.

In short, if you smoke cigarettes you should stop. The increased risk of heart disease and cancer are reason enough to kick the habit. To top this all off, losing your teeth should motivate you to quit smoking as well. No one wants tobacco stains on their teeth, and people surely don’t want to lose their teeth. Give up cigarettes, brush twice daily, floss every day and visit your dentist regularly. These behaviors can help you keep your smile healthy.

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