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If you are a smoker, you probably already know it’s not great for your general health, increasing the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema. Now, new research has shown that smoking also increases the risk of needing root canal therapy. The reason why is because the dental pulp in the center of the tooth is less able to fight diseases and illnesses.
Up until recently, there was little research into how smoking affects the inner part of the tooth, but now we know that smokers are more than twice as likely to require root canal therapy, and the risk of developing gum disease is also higher. During this preliminary research study, a group of smokers and non-smokers with inflamed dental pulps were analyzed. Researchers expected to see that the natural defenses would be lower in smokers but were surprised to discover these defenses were entirely depleted. Interestingly, the defenses in the two people in the study who quit smoking later returned to normal, so it is reversible.
What Happens If You Do Need Root Canal Therapy?
Although your risk of needing root canal therapy may be higher if you smoke, the good news is that it’s an excellent treatment that can save badly infected teeth in smokers and non-smokers. Root canal therapy is needed if the dental pulp in the center of the tooth is infected or inflamed. The pulp contains nerves, connective tissues, and blood vessels and is needed while the tooth is still developing, but a fully developed adult tooth can survive perfectly well without the dental pulp.
How Can a Tooth Become Infect or Inflamed?
Inflammation can develop if a tooth takes a knock severe enough to damage the dental pulp. Infection can occur if a tooth has an untreated cavity, has lost a filling or a poorly fitting dental crown, or if it is fractured or cracked. Any damage of this type allows infection-causing bacteria to get inside the tooth.
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammation or Infection in a Tooth?
Any inflammation or infection in a tooth can be very painful, and common symptoms include swollen gums around the affected tooth, pain when you bite or chew, or the discomfort might be continuous and throbbing. If the infection is severe, the gum near to the tooth could develop a pimple as the infection tries to spread, and it can develop into a dental abscess which is much more severe, and by this stage, it might be difficult or impossible to save the tooth.
In the worst case, a tooth infection can be severe enough to affect your general health and can cause facial swelling, fever or a general sense of feeling unwell. Without urgent care, an infected tooth may be life-threatening.
What Is the Procedure for Root Canal Therapy?
If you suspect you might have an infected or inflamed tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible. There is a far greater chance the tooth can be saved when you seek treatment more quickly. When a tooth infection is particularly severe, there might not be any other alternative to tooth extraction, which is definitely something your dentist will want to avoid.
Your dentist will carry out specific diagnostic tests, including dental x-rays, to more clearly visualize the extent of the infection and to plan your treatment. Root canal therapy has a poor reputation for being painful or uncomfortable at best, which is most likely due to people being in substantial pain when they initially seek treatment.
The reality is very different because modern dentistry is far more comfortable and should be pain-free, soon relieving your discomfort. Even the techniques for giving numbing injections have improved significantly. Your gum is first numbed with a topical gel before the injection is provided in a manner that should feel quite comfortable. Some dentists even have specialized equipment designed to ensure dental injections are administered slowly and comfortably, or have gone out of their way to create a spa-like atmosphere, which is far removed from traditional dental offices.
Once your tooth is numb, the dentist makes a small opening in the tooth to reach the dental pulp. The entire dental pulp is removed, and the area is disinfected. Sometimes the empty dental pulp chamber is immediately sealed, while other times it is temporarily filled, just so your dentist can be sure the infection is eliminated before the tooth is permanently restored.
Usually, a tooth that has received root canal treatment will need restoring with a full crown that covers up the tooth entirely. This is because the tooth has most likely lost a substantial amount of its original structure and a dental crown restores this structure to the tooth, ensuring it is strong enough for biting and chewing comfortably, and of course, it should look great.
Although root canal therapy can help save smokers’ teeth, smoking is bad for your dental health in many other ways, some of which are listed below. If you can, it is well worth trying to quit.
Other Dental Health Problems Caused by Smoking
In addition to increasing the risk of root canal therapy, smoking affects your dental health in numerous other ways. Two of the most apparent side effects are bad breath and yellow, stained teeth.
If you smoke, you’re more likely to have an increase in the buildup of plaque and tartar on your teeth because the chemicals in cigarettes make it easier for plaque bacteria to stick to your teeth. There is an increased risk of gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss.
As if that weren’t bad enough, gum disease is also linked to poorer general health. If you have advanced gum disease or periodontal disease, your risk of general health conditions developing, or worsening increases, and these conditions include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Smokers are also more likely to develop a condition called leukoplakia, which causes white patches to develop inside the mouth. Although leukoplakia is harmless, it can be a precursor for oral cancer. When you smoke, it delays the healing process; for example, if you need a tooth extracted and require oral surgery or periodontal treatment. If you have ever considered dental implants, know that the success rate in smokers is lower because of delayed healing.