Why Many Smokers Have Terrible Teeth

By Jennifer Matesa 02/08/12

Smoking causes a plethora of oral health problems, but many smokers tend to avoid dentists.

Smokers have more problems and fewer
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Smokers haveoorer dental health and more oral health problems than ex-smokers, or people who have never smoked—and yet they delay going to the dentist, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report is based on a 2008 survey of more than 16,000 adults aged 18-64. It shows that over a third of smokers—more than twice the percentage of people who never smoked—had three or more dental problems. Such problems include anything from stained teeth to toothache, jaw pain, or infected gums. Almost 20% of smokers had avoided going to the dentist for over five years—again, twice the percentage of former smokers and never-smokers—and the main reason, apparently, was cost: more than half the smokers said they couldn’t afford it and had no dental insurance. Other CDC surveys report that smoking rates are higher among low-income people. A 2010 report found 31% of people below the federal poverty level and 28.5% among those with less than a high-school education smoked—compared with just 5.6% among those with graduate degrees. This week’s report emphasized, “The evidence for an association between tobacco use and oral diseases has been clearly shown in every Surgeon General’s report on tobacco since 1964.” Smoking is a risk factor for oral cancers, gum diseases and cavities.

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Jennifer Matesa is a Voice Award Fellow at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is the author of the blog Guinevere Gets Sober. She is the author of several books, including the non-fiction, The Recovering Body, about physical and spiritual fitness for living clean and sober. You can find Jennifer on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.