If you've been a tobacco chewer or snuff user for years (or even decades), you may have subconsciously reveled in the knowledge that your tobacco consumption was unlikely to lead to lung cancer and the other well-publicized side effects of cigarette smoking. However, smokeless tobacco is not without its own risks, and those who regularly use chewing tobacco or snuff may face a 2 to 6 times higher risk of oral cancer than non-tobacco users. Even those who don't wind up contracting cancer after years of oral nicotine exposure may find that this habit has resulted in tooth decay, receding gums, and other potentially serious health issues. Read on to learn more about the dental treatment options that can help correct or reverse the physical effects of years of smokeless tobacco use.
What can you do to improve the health and appearance of your teeth after you've stopped chewing tobacco?
One of the wonders of the human body is its ability to quickly repair itself once you've stopped exposing it to nicotine. After a few days without tobacco use, you may grow concerned after noticing small sores or white areas in your mouth that have recently appeared. However, rather than being a sign of further damage, these sores and spots represent your immune system's effort to rebuild and repair chronic raw or open areas in your mouth. After a few weeks, these sores should be healed or significantly smaller as the nicotine and other carcinogens in chewing tobacco are metabolized out of your system. And after you've been tobacco-free for 15 years, your risk of heart disease will be identical to that of someone who has never smoked or chewed.
Unfortunately, the wide range of side effects experienced after years of chewing tobacco use can't always be handled by one's own body. You may have also put off regular dental treatment during the years you chewed for fear of being scolded for your habit, compounding any dental and gum damage that may have occurred. It's important to schedule a thorough dental cleaning and checkup shortly after you've quit the habit to assess any conditions that may require ongoing treatment.
For example, if you frequently held your chewing tobacco against a certain part of your teeth or gum, you could have heavy surface staining on the teeth in this area that would benefit from laser whitening treatments. You might also find that you've begun to suffer from a receding gumline as nicotine killed off the healthy gum tissue in the parts of your mouth most closely exposed to tobacco. The pockets that tend to open in receding gum tissue can harbor bacteria that accelerate tooth decay, creating an unfortunate domino effect within your mouth. Irrigating these pockets to remove bacteria and closing these pockets manually can allow your gums to heal and begin to regrow healthy tissue.
What are your best options if your teeth are beyond repair?
In some cases, your tooth decay may have rendered your tooth unable to be salvaged by even a root canal or crown. If your dental damage is limited to your teeth and gums, rather than the jawbone beneath, you may be a good candidate for dental implants. These implants are false teeth placed on a titanium post -- this post is then surgically implanted into your jaw, where it eventually fuses with the bone to become as strong and visually appealing as the natural teeth around it. When properly placed and cared for, these implants can last decades without much maintenance.
If your jawbone has been damaged by years of tobacco use, you may first need to strengthen it -- either through a transplant of cadaver bone or even a 3D-printed titanium jaw -- before dental implants can properly be fitted. Depending upon the amount of repair required and your overall dental health, a partial bridge or set of dentures may be a better long-term option. Your dentist will be able to review the benefits and potential drawbacks of these options with your specific conditions in mind.