Dear Dr. Reichwage,
I'm a 31 year-old mom and smoke about a pack of cigarettes daily. I've tried lots of things to quit but I haven't been able to. My husband doesn't kiss me because my breath smells bad. My teeth are yellow and they have a rough build-up. Sometimes they bleed when I brush. Is smoking causing this? Katie C., Waynedale
First of all, I commend you for trying to stop. I used to smoke, and found when I started to exercise, that I lost my desire for cigarettes. You might try an exercise program to see if it helps you both mentally and physically.
You have asked such an important question for millions of Americans. To answer, let's start at the most basic level of your body, the cell. Each cell has five points to which an oxygen molecule attaches. We all know oxygen is necessary to maintain health.
However, recent research indicates a smoker's body loses 2/5 of your oxygenating ability, because each cell loses 2 of those oxygen-molecule-attachment sites.
If we were to compare your body to a car, with each attachment site a spark plug, and five spark plugs required for smooth performance, you would be running on 3! So your engine, or body, consistently runs rough, improperly fueled, and somewhat starved. That's why smokers are prone to major illnesses.
Another body of recently published research indicates smokers going into back surgery so automatically compromise their outcome by smoking, that it is questionable whether the surgery is worthwhile. In fact, researchers are finding that smokers, across the board, compromise surgical outcomes by their smoking habit, because their compromised body, with its compromised immune system, cannot properly heal itself due to the lack of proper oxygenation and other factors inherent to the effects of the 4000 + chemicals in tobacco.
Now let's focus on your mouth. Tobacco constricts your entire body's blood vessels, thereby reducing blood flow and contributes to a "dry mouth" syndrome. Without proper oxygenation and saliva, bacteria breed and thrive in that "build-up," called tartar or calculus, which only your dental team can remove. Tobacco makes you 4 times more likely to have advanced periodontal disease and twice as likely to lose your teeth. So the bad breath caused by the bacteria is only a by-product of the real problems in your mouth.
If you do not get regular dental care, please search out a dentist with an excellent periodontal treatment program to partner with you to contain further deterioration.
In my practice, we treat patients in the earliest stages of periodontal disease using the latest non-surgical treatments, including soft-tissue laser therapy. However, when my patient smokes, my team and I discuss with them that their outcome will automatically be compromised or lessened by tobacco.
I know this isn't great news, Katie, but 1) you are slowly reducing your body's ability to function, 2) your smoking is affecting your relationship with your husband, and 3) you are modeling smoking as an appropriate behavior to your children. That's a pretty high price to pay for a cigarette!
You smoke about a pack a day, so let's look ahead 20 years. You're now 51, and if you've continued to smoke, you may be fighting emphysema, or lung cancer, or heart disease, or you may already have lost the battle with one of these or other diseases.
However, if you stopped smoking years ago, statistically you're probably reasonably healthy and enjoying your grandchildren. And if you had invested the cost of your pack a day (about $1200 a year calculated at 8%), you have $59,307.51 more in the bank! And your husband's and grandchildren's kisses would be an even greater treasure!
I have written more on the latest research on smoking and its affects on your health at the cellular level for "Healthcares" magazine. That article will be published in their Fall 02 edition, and may interest you. Access "Healthcares" website at www.healthcares.cc or call me at 426-1086 for a copy.