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Five facts to show you how tobacco wipes the smile off your dial

Most people know that smoking leads to lung cancer. But many are not aware that smoking also affects other parts of your body – and particularly your mouth and throat area.

We’ve compiled some quick facts to show how dangerous smoking can be for your mouth -- whether your use cigarettes, snuff or hookah pipes.

1: Your risk of developing cancer increases

People who smoke have a higher risk of developing oral cancers such as lip cancer, throat cancer and mouth cancer, according to research conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Oral cancer is the 11thmost common cancer in the world. Smoking is a primary risk factor for this type of cancer and has been linked to about 41% of the oral cancer cases in men and 11% in women.

Many people think that oral cancers are only linked to cigarette use. But smokeless tobacco products like snuff (which is popular in South Africa) contains at least 28 chemicals that increase the risk of oral cancer, cancer of the throat and oesophagus.

2. You have a higher chance of gum disease … that you won’t pick up

Smokers are between two and four times more likely to develop gum disease. Research shows that smoking may cause nearly 75% of gum disease in adults. This is primarily because the nicotine and toxins in smoke changes the way that the soft tissue and bone attach to the teeth -- and as a result smokers develop gum disease.

But the bigger problem is that because smoking constricts the blood flow to the mouth, the normal symptoms of gum disease (like red, swollen and bleeding gums) are unlikely to show. This means that many smokers walk around for years with untreated gum disease. And this, in turn, leads to them losing their teeth.

Studies show that years of smoking has been linked to people having higher numbers of missing teeth.

3. You also develop other dental problems

Bad breath … Yellow stained teeth … These have also been linked to long term smoking. Many smokers don’t realise it but their daily habit may be contribute to them to developing these problems and having gums that are darkened. This is known as smoker’s melanosis.

Often people who smoke have sensitive teeth and gums that are easily irritated because their roots may be affected. And smoking can also decrease a person’s ability to taste and smell.

In addition, smoking and smokeless tobacco has been linked to mouth diseases such as leukoplakia – a precancerous condition where people develop thickened white patches on the gums and in other areas of the mouth.

4. Your mouth wounds take longer to heal

Smoking reduces the way the blood flows to the gums. This reduced blood circulation in your mouth means that wounds take time to heal. And that means that smokers are more susceptible to mouth infections.

5. Your voice can be affected

Ever wondered why so many smokers have such rusty voices. Research shows that smoking can cause a person’s vocal cords to swell. People who smoke can also develop polyps on their vocal cords. Any of these condition can lead to a deepening and scratchiness of the voice. Anyone who develops voice changes should go see a health professional as soon as possible because there is a risk that they could have throat cancer.

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