What Smoking Can Do to Your Teeth

You know smoking is bad for your health, so it should be no surprise that cigarettes and chewing tobacco are also harmful to your oral health. For one, tobacco products can cause bad breath, but that’s only the beginning.

Other possible oral health impacts of smoking and all tobacco products include:

  • Stained teeth
  • Stained tongue
  • Slow healing after a tooth extraction or other surgery
  • Difficulties in correcting cosmetic dental problems
  • Gum disease
  • Oral cancer

Half of periodontal (gum) disease in smokers is caused by smoking. Chronic (or long-term) gum disease can lead to the loss of your teeth. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection. It destroys soft tissue and bone that anchor your teeth to your jawbones. Bacteria grow in the dental plaque that forms in the pockets around your teeth. Your body’s reaction to the plaque leads to the breakdown of soft tissue and bone.

Studies have shown that smokers have more calculus (tartar) than nonsmokers. This may be a result of a decreased flow of saliva. Calculus is the hardened form of plaque.  Smoking tobacco products can make gum disease get worse faster. Smokers have more severe bone loss and more deep pockets between their teeth and gums than nonsmokers. In studies, smokers were three to six times more likely to have gum destruction than nonsmokers. Severe bone loss was five times greater among current or former heavy smokers than among people who never smoked.

Not only does smoking increase the chance that you will develop gum disease, it makes treatment much more difficult. And the treatment is less likely to succeed. That’s because smoking hinders healing in your mouth. One study found that smokers were twice as likely as nonsmokers to lose teeth in the five years after completing periodontal treatment. In most studies of nonsurgical gum treatment (or deep scaling), smokers improved less than nonsmokers. Smokers also don’t respond well to oral surgery treatments. Dental implants are much more likely to fail in people who smoke, because of poor bone healing.

Researchers are still studying just what smoke does to mouth tissue. It appears to interfere with basic functions that fight disease and promote healing. Researchers have found that smoking affects the way gum tissue responds to all types of treatment. It is not just cigarette smoke that contributes to periodontal disease. All tobacco products can affect health. This includes pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and cigars. Labels on smokeless products, such as chewing tobacco or snus include warnings that the products can cause oral cancer, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Quitting is the only way to decrease your risk of these and other tobacco related health problems. The addictive quality of nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, can make this especially difficult. That’s why it’s important to have a plan and a support network, people to help you stick to your plan. Write down your reasons for quitting. Exercising, chewing gum, and keeping yourself occupied can help you quit. Talk to your dentist or doctor to see if the medications available would help you stop using tobacco.

In January of 2014, the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health by expanding the list of illnesses associated with smoking. More than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was issued in 1964, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Most of those deaths were adults who smoked, but 2.5 million were of nonsmokers who died because they breathed secondhand smoke, or air that was polluted by other people’s cigarette smoke.

The Surgeon General’s office has a free, easy to read booklet that is designed to give concerned adults information to help them make choices that will improve their own health and the health of their children, their families, and their communities. For more information, visit the Surgeon General’s Website.

Looking for more inspiration to quit? Check out Tips from Former Smokers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Watch TV ads from the Tips campaigns and get to know the real people who appear in them. You can also watch their videos to hear how cigarette smoking has affected their lives.