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How smoking affects your oral health

The effects of smoking on your overall health are well known: a high risk of developing lung cancer, breathing problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)… The list goes on. But you may not know that smoking can lead to oral health problems and make it more difficult to treat those problems, too.

How does smoking affect my oral health?

  • Teeth wear down faster. Cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and unprocessed tobacco leaves (used as cigar wrappers) contain tiny particles that are abrasive to teeth. When mixed with saliva and chewed, an abrasive paste is created that wears down teeth over time.
  • Fewer dental treatment options. The damage to your mouth from smoking includes reduced blood flow, increased bacteria and inflammation. These problems can make it difficult to replace lost teeth. For example, implants and bridges might not be a repair option because your surrounding teeth and jawbone may have weakened from infection or decay and aren’t strong enough to support these procedures.
  • Gum disease is harder to treat. Smoking affects your immune system’s ability to do its job, so if you’re a smoker being treated for gum disease, it might be more of a struggle to fight the problems associated with gum disease. Smoking also limits the growth of blood vessels, slowing the healing of gum tissue after oral surgery or from injury.
  • More likely to get sick. Tobacco reduces the body’s ability to fight infection, including in the mouth and gums. A simple infection can lead to something worse, like sepsis.
  • Higher risk for other problems. Smokers are twice as likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers.

What about vaping and e-cigarettes?

Vapes are an alternative product that work by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals until it produces an aerosol users breath in.

Many young people believe that vaping is much safer than using cigarettes because e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco. However, any substantial difference in safety is still up for debate as there aren’t many long-term studies. Young people who vape are also more likely to start smoking cigarettes in the future.

What about chewing tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco (also known as snuff or chewing tobacco) is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas. Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco can lead to higher incidences of oral cancer. In fact, smokeless tobacco products, just like cigarettes, contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals.

A few of the other known health dangers include:

  • Risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder because toxins in the juice created by chewing can be swallowed.
  • Irritating your gums, which can lead to gum (periodontal) disease.
  • Increased risk of tooth decay since sugar is often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco.
  • Tooth sensitivity and erosion due to sand and grit from smokeless tobacco wearing down teeth.

What can I do to protect my oral health?

If you’re a smoker, you can start by understanding that tobacco dependence is a nicotine addiction disorder.

There are four aspects to nicotine addiction:

  • Physical
  • Sensory
  • Psychological
  • Behavioral

All aspects of nicotine addiction need to be addressed to break the habit, and it’s not uncommon for smokers to try and quit several times before succeeding. If you’re a smoker, work with both your physician and your dentist to find the method that will help you quit for good.

Users enter the Nicotine Addiction Cycle by using nicotine for pleasure, enhanced performance or mood regulation. The first step of the cycle is becoming increasingly nicotine tolerant and physically dependent. Step two is a choice to abstain from nicotine which results in withdrawal symptoms. Step three is using nicotine to treat or deal with withdrawal symptoms. The cycle restarts when users become nicotine tolerant and physically dependent again.

Last updated April 1, 2022

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.