By Susan Braden
For many people, smoking is an embarrassing habit. For teens living at home, it can be a dangerous, hard-to-keep secret with noticeable changes in tooth color. If you find yourself in this plight, you may be concerned about trips to the dental office, because no one knows as much about teeth as a dentist does. Teens embarrassed about their teeth may wonder if the dentist will tell their parents and if smoking will keep them from receiving cheap dental care.
The quick answer to this question is "Yes." Dentists can almost always tell if a person is a smoker or not, especially if the dentist has been practicing for a long time. The teeth and gums of an individual who smokes on a regular basis are telling signs of a smoking problem.
If you have smoked within a day or two of your appointment, there are many other telltale signs your dentist will immediately notice, including the consistency of your saliva and the smell of your mouth.
Cigarettes contain both nicotine and tar as well as chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. Teeth get stained when you inhale the smoke because it leaves a residue on the teeth.
Because every state law varies, there is not a definite answer to this question, but if you are a minor and do not want your parents to know that you smoke, you should be aware that your dentist might have to give your secret away. Some state laws will require dentists to speak to your parents about any "damaging habits," while other states will require the dentist to respect the privacy of the patient regardless of age. Since your dentist will be able to tell regardless that you are a smoker, it is best to just be upfront with the dentist about your smoking habit.
Smoking is a very costly habit both to your wallet and to your overall health, including the health of your mouth. The permanent stains and tooth decay caused by tobacco smoke can cause the dentist bills of smokers to be substantially higher than those of non-smokers. There are cheap dental care options available, however, that will discount a smoker regardless of age or how long they have been smoking. Often times, a discount dental plan or insurance can lower the cost of the average appointment.
The best way to keep your parents from finding out that you smoke is to not smoke at all. If you are just a "casual smoker" (smoking only 1-2 times a week), you might think you can fool dentists by not smoking for a few days prior to the visit and vigorously brushing your teeth a few days in a row before going. However, if you are a regular smoker, dentists will still recognize the oral effects of smoking early in your consultation.
Seeking out your own cheap dental care may be the most effective way to keep your family from knowing that you smoke, but the safest, wisest thing to do for your family relationship is to make the hard choice to tell your parents. Finally, do not use your secret as an excuse to avoid going to the dentist – your mouth will only get worse the longer you wait.