Every year 1Dental runs a scholarship for college students. This year we had interested students fill out a survey with their opinions on smoking and dental health. We received 3,681 responses, 2% of which came from students who said they smoked, and have compiled some really interesting information.
At What Age Do Most Students Start Smoking?
According to our survey respondents, most students begin smoking between the ages of 15 and 18. Meaning that most students begin smoking even before they hit the college campus. This brings up an interesting point that students are more likely to build the habit of smoking while in high school.
Colleges do not encourage smoking and have actually gone so far as to ban it from their campus in many cases. We uncovered that 40% of respondents that currently attend a college said that smoking is banned from their college campus.
Why Do Most Students Start Smoking?
Students were given a handful of options to choose from in our survey when asked why they smoke. They were able to choose multiple options if they applied. The options we gave our respondents are as follows: relieve stress, weight loss, friends or family members smoke and social activity.
As previously mentioned, most students begin smoking in high school and you can clearly see by the chart that most of them take up smoking to relieve stress. By comparing these two very interesting data pieces, we can conclude that the pressures of high school can drive many students to take up smoking as a coping mechanism. Parents should be aware of this fact to better help their children deal with the stress and encourage them away from the decision to begin smoking.
Smoking is also considered somewhat of a social activity among students and it could be caused by peer pressure. Interestingly enough, most respondents said that no one in their immediate family smokes at all. A few responded that distant relatives smoke, which tells us that the social aspect comes from a peer group and not as much from the family unit. Therefore, as parents, you may consider keeping an eye on the friends that your child makes in high school. They could have a tremendous influence on your child’s life.
What Are Common Smoking Habits?
Our survey concluded that the majority of students smoke cigarettes as opposed to an alternative like e-cigarettes. Most students stated that they smoke between 1-5 cigarettes a day. As we can see from the data, college students don’t smoke a pack a day, which is good. This may be limited by income, or perhaps banning smoking from campuses has really changed the habits of students who smoke.
How Does Smoking Affect Your Teeth?
Incredible results showed that 99% of our respondents believe that smoking negatively affects teeth and they are not wrong. Smokers are more likely to have oral health issues. One of the most obvious affects is tooth discoloration.
There are a number of chemicals in cigarettes—such as ammonia, carbon monoxide and acetone—that all contribute to stained teeth. These chemicals can also cause plaque build-up. Plaque builds up on your teeth and eventually, if not dealt with, can cause tooth decay or tooth loss.
Another common effect smoking has on oral health is bad breath. Many of our respondents recognized this side effect and stated that they believe e-cigarettes (e-cigs, as they are also called) might be a better alternative. We will talk more about e-cigs and their effect on dental health further in this report.
Nicotine also causes many oral health issues associated with smoking. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which means that it restricts the flow of blood to the gums. Gums need a steady flow of blood in order to stay oxygenated and receive the nutrients they need to keep them healthy. When the blood flow is restricted, gums can recede, causing pain and tooth loss. Nicotine also reduces your mouth’s ability to produce saliva. Without proper amounts of saliva, many people develop dry mouth.
The last effect we will discuss is one of the biggest: cancer. Smoking has been proven to cause many types of cancer – including lung cancer. But did you know that it can cause oral cancer, as well? Oral cancer can appear in sores around the mouth.
WebMD has a list of other dental problems that can be caused by smoking, as well as tips to quitting smoking. Check out their resource.
What About Students and Their Dental Health?
According to our survey, 62% of students visit a dentist twice a year, which is great especially if they smoke, because visiting a dentist regularly can help keep teeth clean and maybe avoid some of the possible effects of nicotine on teeth. Additionally, 69% of our respondents said that they had zero cavities this year. It seems that most students are not suffering from major oral health issues. Perhaps that is simply due to the fact that they have not been smoking for long. Nicotine negatively affects oral health in the long-term more than in the short-term; therefore, it is no surprise that about half our smoking students said they had experienced stained teeth or bad breath and half said they had not.
Are E-Cigarettes a Good Alternative to Regular Cigarettes?
We asked our respondents that said they currently smoke if they preferred smoking regular cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Nearly 68% said they smoke regular cigarettes. We proceeded to follow-up and ask students their personal opinion of e-cigs. With the compiled data, we see that 34% of students see e-cigs as a good alternative, about 27% had no opinion on the matter, another 26% were against them as an alternative and 11% were skeptical because in-depth research has not been done on the effects and safety of e-cigarettes.
We also asked our non-smokers about their opinions of e-cigarettes. 52% said they disagreed that e-cigs were healthier than regular cigarettes. Another 24% just said they did not know. Clearly our non-smokers are not generally advocates of smoking—whether it is done with regular cigarettes or e-cigarettes.
What Is an E-Cigarette and Is It Healthier?
E-cigarettes are battery-powered aerosol devices that create water vapor instead of smoke. The vapor contains nicotine and sometimes added flavors—because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they can still damage teeth and gums. One merit to the e-cig is that you can reduce the amount of nicotine that you “vape.” This could be used to wean someone off a nicotine addiction by slowly reducing the amount until the addiction is broken.
Another benefit is that the less nicotine a person smokes, or in this case “vapes,” the less damage it can have on teeth.
Ultimately e-cigs are not a perfect alternative when considering dental health, but they are a slight improvement simply because they produce no smoke and it is the smoke that contains many of the chemicals that tend to stain teeth. Unfortunately, the nicotine can still restrict saliva production and cause tooth discoloration.
There is no “healthy” way to smoke, but an e-cig could be used as a possible alternative to your traditional tobacco cigarettes.
We hope you found this research interesting. We certainly learned a few things from the students who participated. If you enjoyed this post, keep an eye out for our next research piece coming out later this month: “What Your College Student Has to Say about Drinking and Their Dental Health.”
We’d love to hear from you on this topic! What are your thoughts? Does your student smoke? Why did they start smoking?