Smoking & Oral Health

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Impact of Smoking
  2. Smoking and Staining
  3. Chances of Gum Disease
  4. Causes Bad Breath
  5. Risk for Oral Cancer
  6. Tooth Loss and Decay
  7. Healing Impairment
  8. Complication Prevention
  9. References

It is no surprise that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. This damage extends to your oral health.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness in America. It is the cause of 20 percent of deaths.

If you smoke, your oral health will suffer. You are at risk for bad breath, stained teeth, mouth legions, gum disease, and fatal diseases like oral cancer.

The Impact of Smoking on Oral Health

Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 potentially toxic chemicals, including highly addictive nicotine.

Smoking can impact nearly all systems in your body. It can lead to a lowered immune system, an increased risk for several forms of cancer, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and eye issues. Over 16 million people in the United States live with a disease that was caused by smoking.

The American Dental Association (ADA) warns that smoking and tobacco products can cause the following:

  • Teeth staining
  • Gum disease
  • Bad breath
  • Oral cancer
  • Tooth decay and loss
  • Difficulties healing after a dental procedure
  • A decreased sense of smell and taste

Smoking can also make it more difficult to correct cosmetic dental problem with products like aligners. This can lead to longer treatment times and more complications.

Smoking & Teeth Staining

Cigarettes contain both tar and nicotine, which can stain your teeth yellow. This can happen in a short time, and it is one of the most noticeable cosmetic effects of smoking.

Yellow teeth can be embarrassing. They make you less likely to want to smile or show your teeth. This can lead to lower self-esteem and increased concerns over your appearance.

There are some specialized toothpastes for people who smoke, but these products can be very abrasive and hard on your teeth. Whitening toothpastes can help a little with the staining on your teeth, but smoking continuously for years is going to keep discoloring your teeth more and more.

If you continue to smoke, you are fighting an uphill battle against yellow, stained teeth.

Increased Rate of Gum Disease for Smokers

Smoking can cause a buildup of bacterial plaque in your mouth and lower the oxygen levels in your bloodstream. Both of these increase your risk for gum disease.

Smoking is the number one environmental risk factor for developing periodontal disease. It also weakens your immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight off diseases and infections.

Gum disease progression can look like this:

  1. Smoking causes bacteria to form on your teeth, which can then get under your gums.
  2. This leads to layers of plaque and then tarter to form. These can build up and cause early gum disease, or gingivitis.
  3. As gum disease worsens, your gums can actually pull away from your teeth. The resulting pockets can get infected.
  4. The tissue and bone that support your teeth can break down, which can make your teeth loose. Eventually, they might need to be extracted.

Smokers have double the risk for gum disease over nonsmokers. Your risk elevates with the longer you smoke and the more you smoke.

Smoking also makes treatments for gum disease more complicated and less successful.

Gum loss and disease, cavities, and tooth decay can continue to worsen with continued smoking and this can cause tooth loss or the need for teeth to be removed.

Smoking Causes Bad Breath

One of the first noticeable effects of smoking on your oral health is bad breath, also called halitosis. First, cigarette smoke can linger in your mouth after you smoke, which can leave an odor.

Smoking also dries out your mouth. One of the major causes of halitosis is a dry mouth.

Mouthwash can help with bad breath that is related to smoking. But this is only a temporary fix. It will not actually address the underlying issues leading to halitosis.

Tobacco Products & a Higher Risk for Oral Cancer

Cigarette smoke contains nearly 70 carcinogens. Smoking is causally related to multiple forms of cancer, including cancer of the mouth and throat. The risk for developing oral cancer is 10 times higher for a smoker than a nonsmoker.

Smoking can cause legions to form in the mouth, a breakdown of the immune system that fights off cancer-forming cells, and create changes to DNA, leading to the development of cancerous cells.

The best way to lower your risk for oral cancer is to stop smoking and using tobacco products altogether. Secondhand cigarette smoke can also increase your risk for developing cancer, so it is important to also avoid breathing it in as much as possible.

Tooth Loss & Decay

Smoking can cause an increase of bacteria in the mouth, which can then cause plaque to build up. Plaque on the teeth can decay tooth enamel, which can cause cavities to form. Smoking, and any form of tobacco use, is related to an increased rate of dental caries, or cavities.

Smoking Impairs Healing & Complicates Dental Treatments

Not only can smoking cause many oral health problems on its own, it can also lead to complications with healing and dental treatments. Since smoking interferes with the body’s ability to fight off infection and the immune system’s ability to function properly, it can make it harder for your mouth to heal after a dental procedure or surgery.

Smoking after a tooth extraction can also cause a painful condition called dry socket. This happens when bacteria contaminates the socket where your tooth was removed.

Typically, when your tooth is extracted, a blood clot forms over the nerves and bone, but in the case of a dry socket, these remain exposed. When you smoke, the act of sucking on the cigarette and exhaling the smoke can dislodge the clot.

Smoking also introduces bacteria into your mouth and slows the healing process. The pain from a dry socket can be intense and radiate throughout the nerves of your entire face.

Dental implants and other cosmetic dental procedures can also be complicated by smoking. This can lead to a prolonged treatment window and the potential need for more intensive and invasive procedures.

Preventing Oral Health Complications

Smoking can be costly to your oral health. The best way to prevent dental and oral issues related to smoking is to not smoke at all.

Talk to your dentist about how smoking and oral health are related and how to protect yourself from related issues. They can advise you on the best methods to help you quit smoking for good. Your mouth will thank you.

References

Tobacco Use and Cessation. (December 2019). American Dental Association (ADA).

Chemicals in Cigarettes: From Plant to Product to Puff. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Heath Effects. (April 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Smoking and Tobacco. (2020). American Dental Association (ADA).

Effect of Cigarette Smoking on the Periodontal Health Status: A Comparative, Cross-Sectional Study. (October-December 2011). Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology.

Smoking, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss. (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Correlation of Oral Hygiene Practices, Smoking and Oral Health Conditions with Self-Perceived Halitosis Amongst Undergraduate Dental Students. (January-June 2014). Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine.

Oral Cancer and Tobacco. (2020). Johns Hopkins University.

Tooth Decay in Alcohol and Tobacco Users. (January-April 2011). Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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