Even after decades of health warnings, approximately 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Although three-quarters will attempt to quit at some time in their life, most won’t be successful because smoking is both pleasurable and highly addictive.
Still, it’s in your best health interest to quit, and not just for your general health. Besides bad breath, reduced taste perception and dry mouth, smokers also face higher risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Quitting is difficult because of the addictive nature of nicotine, one of tobacco’s main ingredients. Nicotine causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical that regulates our sense of pleasure and reward. In time, this effect transcends the physical sensation — smokers soon rearrange their social, work and family life to accommodate it. For those attempting to quit, the physical and emotional effects of withdrawal are daunting.
Yet, there are a number of effective quitting strategies. Smoking is a behavior you’ve learned and reinforced over time that you must now “unlearn.” You should begin by analyzing your own particular smoking habit — when you smoke, what prompts you to smoke, what activities do you associate with smoking, etc.
Most people will find an abrupt halt to cigarette smoking all but impossible. Instead, gradually reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day over several weeks; a weekly 20% reduction over the previous week is a good norm. As you reduce to just a few cigarettes, you’ll be forced to choose when to smoke those “precious” few. You can also use “brand fading,” in which you switch week by week to brands with increasingly lower amounts of nicotine.
You should also attempt to replace the smoking habit with more positive habits. Keep your hands busy holding items like pencils, straws or stress balls. Snack on healthy foods, chew sugarless gum with Xylitol, and drink plenty of water. You might also join a support group of other smokers trying to quit so you don’t have to face the habit alone.
It may take several weeks to break the smoking habit. The results, though, are worth it — you may extend not only your life but the life of your teeth too.
If you would like more information on how to stop smoking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”