If you want to wreck your teeth, smoking, and eating a lot of sugar should be at the top of your list of priorities.

For years, dentists have warned us about sugar, telling us that it erodes the gum line, creates cavities and causes root canal infections. All of that is true: sugar really does mess up your teeth, especially if you “forget” to brush them before you go to bed.

Smoking is also terrible for your teeth and mouth health in a different way. Like sugar, it damages the gums, but unlike the sweet stuff, it’s also responsible for a litany of further horrors.

Let’s take a look at why sugar and smoking are terrible for your teeth and oral health, and then come to a conclusion about which is worse.

The Problem With Sugar

There’s no point laboring this point for too long: the majority of you know why sugar is bad for your teeth. Sugar-eating bacteria in the mouth eat sugar and then start churning out acidic byproducts. These waste articles then damage the teeth and gums, leading to tooth decay, cavities, and gingivitis. What’s more, if you eat a large amount of sugar in the evening and don’t brush your teeth regularly, then the plaque can build up into solid tartar. This stuff is particularly nasty as it can slowly harden and ooze below the gum line leading to a severe gum infection called periodontitis.

Trust me: you don’t want periodontitis keeping you up at night.

The Problem With Smoking

While the dangers of sugar on oral health are well known, the same is not true of smoking. In fact, smokers usually find out about the damage that cigarettes cause when it is too late, and something has already gone wrong.

It Kills Your Salivary Glands

Smoking harms the teeth in many of the same ways as sugar, but the mechanism is different. The consumption of sugar, for instance, leads to the direct buildup of dangerous bacteria that damage the teeth and gums. With smoking, however, the damage takes a more circuitous route.

When you smoke, dangerous cell-toxic particles go into your mouth. These substances can damage the sensitive salivary glands near your tongue and cheeks, causing them to shut down production.

That’s bad news. The reason is that you need saliva to control bacterial buildup in the mouth. Practitioners believe that saliva is mildly antiseptic and flushes bacteria away into the stomach where the acid destroys them. If you smoke and kill off your salivary glands, however, you don’t have as much of the stuff – and that’s a problem. The less saliva you have, the more bacteria that stays in your mouth. And the more bacteria in your mouth, the more damage, and decay.

It Gives You Bad Breath

Smokers have bad breath for two reasons. The first is the effect of all of the tar and chemicals in the smoke. The second, however, comes from the lack mentioned above of saliva. When bacteria have free rein in the mouth, they start generating all kinds of smelly compounds. If there’s no saliva to flush them away, then they build up on the tongue and around the gumline, churning out a bunch of nasty smells.

A lack of saliva can lead to a dramatical change in the type of bacteria living in your mouth. This change in the microbiome can give smokers all kinds of funky halitosis, driving all sorts of problems when on dates or trying to convince somebody to provide you with a job. Bad breath is a big no-no.

It Destroys Your Jawbone

To say that smoking destroys your jawbone seems a little extreme, but it’s true. It turns out that smoking impairs blood flow to the jaw, which, in turn, leads the tissue to shrink.

When bone starts to shrink, it creates a host of knock-on effects, none of which are pleasant. Shrinking jaws, for instance, mean that there’s less space for gums to latch on, increasing the risk of gum disease and tooth loss.

Loss of jawbone also makes fixing tooth loss more difficult. When most people lose a tooth to sugar, they can replace it with the help of an implant. Implants, however, require some good solid bone for them to work. Thus smokers, who lose bone from the jaw, might not have enough to replace the tooth.

Poor Healing

Remember how we said that smoking damaged the gums? Well, the same process means that it is less likely that they will recover from things like tooth loss and dental surgery. Smoking damages the factors in the gums that facilitate the normal healing process. This effect can lead to a higher incidence of secondary infections and the need for more antibiotics than usual.

Increased Risk Of Oral Cancer

Smoking also leads to an increased risk of developing oral cancer. That’s because the same carcinogens that come into contact with the lining of the lungs also affect the lining of the mouth. Smoking appears to program cells to go into cancer mode, putting people’s lives at risk.

Smoking versus sugar: Which Is Worse For Your Teeth?

You can probably see where this conclusion is going. While sugar and smoking are both bad for your teeth, smoking is perhaps worse overall.

The reason for this is simple: not only does it lead to all of the problems of sugar, but it causes extra damage too. Smoking leads to bad breath, cavities, and gum disease, but it also kills off your salivary glands, shrinks your jawbone, and puts you at risk of developing oral cancers. It is, therefore, one of the best ways to wreck your oral health and necessitate frequent trips to the dentist.

You might think that other tobacco products would be safer, but you would be wrong. It turns out that even smokeless products, like chewing tobacco and snuff, also cause damage to the teeth and lead to the same problems as regular smoking.

Your teeth are valuable. You want to adopt a lifestyle that allows you to keep them for as long as possible.

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