As a smoker, you might know about the effects smoking has on your teeth. You’re not hurting anybody else. Right? But don’t forget that smoke has to go somewhere, and those exposed to secondhand smoke suffer as well.

When people (adults and children alike) are exposed to second-hand smoke, that smoke affects not only their health as a whole but their oral health as well. Not many people know that. So, if you’re exposed to second-hand smoke, there are signs you need to look for in your mouth.

The Details About Second-Hand Smoke

Secondhand smoke, also know as passive smoke, is the smoke exhaled from a smoker. Whether it’s cigarettes or cigars, this smoke is damaging to everyone within a breathing radius. Believe it or not, this smoke contains 4,000 chemicals that affect the oral health of every passerby — whether they know it or not.

We all probably figured secondhand smoke wasn’t good for our lungs or our skin, but it goes much deeper than that. In fact, prolonged exposure to it increases your chances of developing the same oral health issues as if you smoked the cigarette yourself. What’s worse, no one is immune. And for kids who live in a smoking house, that’s bad news.

How Secondhand Smoke Affects Oral Health

So, you’ve breathed in secondhand smoke. The fact is, we probably all have. But if we all take an active approach to our oral care and know what to look for, we can head these problems off at the pass.

Here are some of the ways secondhand smoke can affect the health of your mouth. Oral health can affect overall health, so it’s important to know.

Changes in oral flora

The flora of bacteria that lives in your mouth contains both beneficially and non-beneficial organisms. The beneficial flora plays an essential role in keeping bad bacteria at bay and ensuring your teeth and gums stay healthy.

But when you’re exposed to secondhand smoke, your flora changes. These changes directly affect your flora’s ability to protect your mouth. And even worse, it changes the nasopharyngeal flora which could cause respiratory infections.

Decreases an essential protector

Saliva, like bacteria, is important to oral health. It combats bad bacteria and protects the teeth and gums from damage. Saliva is made up of 99 percent water, leaving the other 1 percent composition to organic and inorganic molecules. Not only is the presence of saliva vital to oral health, but so is the quality of the saliva.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes you to produce less saliva. A lower saliva production stops saliva from doing an adequate job protecting your teeth. In addition, it changes the composition of your saliva itself, decreasing its effectiveness.

Increases the chance of disease

With your saliva production decreased and its composition changed, as well as your oral flora, it opens you up to disease.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. The chance of developing gingivitis and periodontitis increases with secondhand smoke exposure. Plus, inflammation from exposure and oxidative stress can cause these conditions too.

As if that wasn’t enough, exposure also decreases alveolar bone density which leads to tooth loss. And all this is without even touching a cigarette.

Secondhand smoke’s role in tooth decay

You may think secondhand smoke couldn’t possibly play a role in your tooth decay, but you’d be mistaken. Most of us have probably never wondered, “Does secondhand smoke cause cavities?”

The answer is not what you’d think.

Secondhand smoke contributes to the formation of cavities in both children and adults. And we’re not just talking adult teeth here — baby teeth and teeth just developing are affected as well. It might even delay tooth development altogether.

And if you’ve had work done, like implants, exposure to secondhand smoke will slow down your recovery. It may go so far as to cause implant failures. The chances of this happening are 2.3 times more than those not exposed.

Save Your Teeth and Gums

In a perfect world, none of us would expose ourselves to secondhand smoke. But since we live in the real world, that’s not always possible.

What you can do is limit your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you live with someone who smokes, insist they do so outside. If you see someone smoking outside of the local Target, walk up-wind. And teach your kids to do the same. You get the idea.

Since we’re all exposed to some degree, here are some things you can do:

Look for signs of disease

Your gums should be bubblegum pink. If they’re not, see a dentist. Have them check your gums for any early signs of gingivitis.

Also, if you see any inflammation at all or notice a decrease in your salivary production, a trip to the dentist is warranted.

That’s especially true in your children. Children might not notice the things that you would, so if they’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke, check their teeth. In addition to that, make an appointment with a pediatric dentist so they can check for things you might not be able to see.

Reduce your exposure

We touched on this, but here are a few additional ways you can decrease your exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • Eat at only smoke-free restaurants
  • Avoid all indoor places that allow smoking
  • Make sure all people in contact with your children or provide care don’t smoke
  • Don’t allow smoking in your home
  • Keep your car smoke-free

Here’s the problem when talking about children and exposure: They don’t have much choice in their exposure if they live with someone who smokes. So, if you live with children — don’t smoke.

Secondhand Smoke Is Just as Bad

Just because you don’t smoke doesn’t mean your teeth and gums are safe from smoke damage. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes yourself.

Unfortunately, all secondhand smoke probably can’t be avoided, but there are ways to limit your exposure and save your smile.

Be choosey about where you and your kids go and who you hang out with. Keep your home smoke-free and avoid establishments that allow smoking indoors. Also, maintain a good relationship with your dentist and visit them every six months.

Be open about your exposure and your children’s as well, so they can help you keep your oral health in top condition.

And take care of your teeth and gums in between appointments because the best chance your mouth has at staying healthy starts at home.

And if you think it’s too late to undo the damage already done, come by and talk to one of the team at Your Caring Dentist Group. We specialize in preventative care, including cleanings and sealants that can help protect your teeth from environmental risks.

Are you worried about your exposure to secondhand smoke? What do you do to avoid it? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Featured Image: CC0, by rgerber, via Pixabay

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