For many of us, the start of a new year feels like a clean slate, and a chance to start some new habits or break some old ones. One of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions every year is quitting smoking. Whether you smoke cigarettes or cigars, use a vape, or use chew or dip, quitting nicotine can feel like impossible. But you don’t have to go it alone! Our team here at Lake Baldwin Dental can help you get set up for success and connect you with resources in improve your results.
Step 1: Find Your Motivation to Quit Smoking
Every smoker has their own reasons to quit smoking. Whether it’s cutting the expense of cigarettes out of your budget, improving your heart health, or to be sure you can make it to your daughter’s wedding in a few years, any reason that keeps you motivated is a good reason.
Most of us are well aware of the health benefits that can come from quitting tobacco. People who quit smoking have lower risks for cancer. Quitting can help reduce high blood pressure and make it easier to walk the dogs and play with your kids without getting winded. However, there are some oral health benefits to quitting tobacco that many people don’t know about!
Quitting Tobacco Reduces Your Risk for Oral Cancer
No matter what kind of tobacco you’re using most often, all tobacco use increases your chance of developing oral cancer. Because lung cancer is more life threatening, it tends to get most of the attention. But you should know that oral cancer, while it’s less likely to kill you (although it still can), is one of the most disfiguring forms of cancer.
The treatment for most oral cancers involves removing large areas of tissue from the affected area. That can mean losing part, half, or all of your tongue. It could mean invasive surgeries to your lips which change your appearance and how you talk.
Recognizing oral cancer early in its progress may allow your doctor to treat it while it’s smaller, helping prevent more extensive surgeries. That’s why a thorough oral cancer screening is part of our routine here at LBD. It’s part of what we’re looking for during every oral health check-up and teeth cleaning appointment, whether you’re a smoker or not!
Smoking Can Lead to Losing Your Teeth
Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor. That means it causes small blood vessels to shrink, choking off the blood supply to the tissue. Whether you smoke, vape, chew, or dip, all nicotine has this effect. Using nicotine restricts blood flow to your gums. Over time, the gum tissue loses its ability to hold tight to the teeth, causing gum disease, recession, and eventually even tooth loss.
The really tricky thing about smokers with gum disease is that this effect of nicotine makes it so the gums don’t bleed as easily. Most of the time, people know their gums are in trouble because they’ll bleed when brushing or flossing. Because smokers don’t see bleeding, they may mistakenly think their gums are healthy when in reality it’s because the small blood vessels can’t feed the gum tissue properly.
Quitting Tobacco Will Help Your Bad Breath
Chronic smokers know all too well how it damages your sense of smell. What it doesn’t do is reduce the sense of smell in the people around you. No matter what kind of tobacco you use, it generally leads to pungent malodor. While many people hope good brushing habits and chewing gum after a smoke might help, bad breath from smoking comes from deep in the lungs and gut. The odor-causing compounds are also infused into the tar that stains your teeth, and soaks into the plaque that builds up under the gums.
Getting your regular cleanings and practicing excellent home care habits can help, but quitting smoking is the best way to improve your bad breath.
Step 2: Understand How to Quit Smoking
There are commonly understood to be five stages of quitting smoking or changing a behavior:
- Pre-contemplation, when you’re not ready to quit, and may never decide to quit.
- Contemplation, when you’re thinking about quitting, but not ready to act on it yet.
- Preparation, when you start taking your first steps, like finding those motivations we mentioned above.
- Action, when you take steps toward quitting.
- Maintenance, when you try to continue not smoking.
When you start contemplating quitting, your dental team can be an important part of your support structure. We can connect you with resources to help you on your journey and guide you in taking your first steps.
How hard is it to quit smoking? It depends how addicted you are to nicotine, and how big a role it plays in your daily life. A good rule of thumb is to take a look at how soon after you wake up you feel like you need your first cigarette. Smokers who light up immediately upon waking will typically have a harder time giving it up than those who don’t smoke for the first couple of hours of their day.
Step 3: Find a Method for How to Quit Smoking That Works for You
Once you decide to take action toward quitting, you’ll want to find a method for how to quit smoking that will work for you. Your level of addiction will be part of what determines how hard it will be to stop smoking, as well as what approach may be easiest to commit to long term. Your chosen method will affect how long it will take to quit smoking, but ultimately it’s about finding an approach you can stick to.
“Cold turkey” quitting gets a lot of notoriety. While it works for many people, it can be one of the most challenging ways to change your habit, especially if you’re strongly addicted to nicotine or cigarettes are woven into many parts of your daily routine. There’s some appeal to the idea of waking up one morning, running that last pack under the kitchen sink, and sweating it out for a few days before you’re free of the habit.
However, a little groundwork can go a long way in making the process more comfortable, approachable, and ultimately successful for many people. A gradual approach to quitting may work better for many. You can start by taking note of when you typically smoke throughout your day. Then, try to cut down that number little by little over the course of several days or even weeks. Just delaying that first cigarette in the morning for an hour or two can sometimes light the fuse on your success.
Using cessation aids like nicotine gums and patches can help soothe cravings while you decrease your intake. They can also turn cold turkey into lukewarm turkey, helping you through the worst of the struggle so you don’t suffer as much during the withdrawal period and make it easier to resist when those cravings get really strong.
Step 4: Stay the Course and Be Ready for Bumps in the Road
It’s worth mentioning here that “slip-ups” are part of the maintenance portion of quitting tobacco or changing a habit. Just because you fall back on an old habit doesn’t mean all that hard work is for nothing! On average, it takes five or six attempts at quitting before it sticks. If you backslide, just check off the box for one of your five attempts and keep moving forward!
As always, we’re here to support your journey toward better oral health in any way we can. Remember, you don’t have to wait until the next New Year to make your attempt to quit! However, since it is just the start of 2023, now might be as good a time as ever to give it a go. Keep smiling and quit smoking, Orlando!