Smoking is the main cause of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and blockage of the arteries. Traditional cigarettes and other forms of tobacco consumption such as hookah, contain more than 6,000 harmful chemicals, at least 100 of which are considered very dangerous to the human body. The majority of these hazardous substances are formed as a result of the combustion process of tobacco, which occurs at temperature exceeding more than 800 degrees Celsius; this process leads to the release of toxic substances that, when inhaled either directly or through second-hand smoke, leads to changes in tissues and cells in the human body.
Conventional smoking particularly affects the mouth and periodontal tissues. Studies have shown that smoking leads to changes in the type, number, and distribution of gingival tissue cells, and increases toxicity within these tissues, in addition to disrupting immune cells and causing inflammation which in turn, leads to tissue disintegration.
Furthermore, continuous exposure to cigarette smoke reduces the secretion of some antibodies and immune cells naturally present in saliva, which fight bacteria and viruses that reside in the oral cavity. The compromised immune response leads to the overabundance of harmful pathogens which can be transmitted to other parts of the body through the blood or digestive system.
Studies have shown that nicotine is one of the most important factors in smoking addiction, bearing in mind that nicotine is naturally present in tobacco leaves, and in small percentages in some other plants; it is also used medicinally in products used to quit smoking. It must be noted that people suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, pregnant and lactating women, and children should stay away from nicotine, whether by use or inhalation.
However, it must be clarified that nicotine is not the main cause of smoking-diseases, but rather the cause of these diseases can be attributed to the toxic substances such as tar and carbon monoxide that are formed as a result of the combustion process.
Continuous exposure to tar can breakdown the protective outer enamel on teeth, creating a rough surface where bacteria and tartar begin to rapidly accumulate. The increased levels of bacteria and tartar can cause inflammation of the gums and supporting tissues, which may lead to tooth loss. Several studies have found that tar leads also to the discoloration of cosmetic fillings made of resin. Furthermore, these studies confirmed that smoking plays a negative role in the healing process after oral surgeries, as smoking causes small blood vessels in the mouth to contract, reducing blooding circulation and the inhibiting the arrival of cells that build tissues and fight bacteria. At present, there are more than one billion smokers in the world today despite the fact that smoking causes six million deaths annually. With that in mind, there has been significant progress made towards the development of less harmful alternatives for adult smokers who cannot or do not want to quit smoking completely.
Numerous studies and scientific experiments have proven that smoke-free alternatives are less harmful to the body, and that they can be used to help smokers to reduce overall tobacco consumption.
An example of reduced-harm alternatives are electronic cigarettes, or alternatives that rely on heating tobacco instead of burning it. Because these products do not rely on the combustion process (which is the main cause of the formation of toxic substances), they produce significantly lower levels of harmful constituents, making them a better alternative to traditional cigarettes or tobacco consumption.
As a conclusion, the burning process that traditional cigarettes rely on leads to negative effects on all parts of the body, including gums and teeth, which become more severe with prolonged smoking. As always, the best decision is to quit smoking and completely, however, for adult smokers who do not wish to quit, the next best thing is to seek out better alternatives to smoking.
By Dr. Wesam Al-Nimri
Oral and Dental Specialist