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How does tobacco affect oral health?

A simple search on the world wide web will reveal tonnes of research articles and studies explaining the ill effects of tobacco on our overall health and well-being.

However, it’s not just your vital organs that take a beating by smoking cigarettes and consuming other tobacco-based products. Your dental health too gets compromised in a significant way.

Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco can lead to the following dental problems:

  • Increased risk of developing oral cancer
  • Increased risk of cavities or decay due to dry mouth
  • Increased risk of gum disease that can lead to tooth loss
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Stained teeth
  • Increased build-up of plaque and tartar
  • Increased loss of bone within the jaw
  • Delayed healing process following tooth extraction and other oral surgery
  • Reduced blood supply to the mouth
  • Lower success rate of dental implant procedures

Tobacco usage can cause oral cancer

Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipe and using smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, dip, snuff, or water pipes (sheesha or hookah) can significantly increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

Also known as mouth cancer, it is where a tumour develops in a part of the mouth. It is sixth most common cancer in the world and one of the fastest growing ones too. Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco-based products is one of the leading causes of oral cancer.

The harmful substances in tobacco can trigger DNA changes and multiplication of cells of the mouth cavity which can lead to the development of oral cancer. It is recommended to see dentists regularly, as mouth cancers are often discovered during dental exams or treatments. Oral cancer is much easier to treat if caught early.

To prevent the occurrence of mouth cancer, one must refrain from smoking cigarettes or using tobacco in any other way, in addition to drinking alcohol within the weekly permissible limit, and eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables.

Read more:

  1. 8 Tips to Improve your Oral Hygiene Routine
  2. What is a night guard and what are its uses?
  3. Oral disease and its impact on overall health

Smoking and dry mouth

There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking, and one of them is having a dry mouth. A dry mouth can occur when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva. Smoking can directly cause dry mouth, it can also exacerbate the already existing condition.

The nicotine in tobacco reduces the production of saliva, which plays an important role in helping protect your teeth and gums by washing away food debris and fighting cavity-causing bacteria. Saliva even helps to prevent acid attacks from plaque. Dry mouth caused by smoking also allows plaque to build up, leading to tooth decay.

What role does smoking play in gum disease?

Smoking can make it harder for gum infections to heal. Tobacco usage causes poor blood flow to the gums, leading to the infected gums not being able to heal easily. Furthermore, consuming tobacco in any form weakens your immune system, making it harder to fight off gum disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults.

As per studies, smokers are twice as likely to get gum disease compared to non-smokers. The more cigarettes you smoke and the longer you smoke, the greater will be your risk for gum disease. Also, treatments for gum disease may not be as effective for people who smoke.

Tobacco use in any form — cigarettes, pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products — raises your risk for gum disease. In fact, sugars often added to enhance the flavour of smokeless tobacco products, such as in chewing form, can increase your risk for tooth decay.

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Red, swollen, tender and bleeding gums
  • Discharge (pus) coming from your gums
  • Gums that are loose and pull away from your teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth

Preventing teeth and gum problems in tobacco users

If you smoke or consume tobacco in any other form, there are certain things you can do to prevent tooth and gum problems, including:

  • Try to quit smoking. Speak to your dentist for guidance and tips
  • If quitting is not possible, try and reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke or reduce the frequency of your tobacco consumption to start off with
  • Brush your teeth and gums twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and use a floss or interdental brush daily
  • Visit your hygienist and dentist every six months. They can detect the signs of decay and gum disease early, offering preventive treatments
  • Avoid having a dry mouth. Stay hydrated and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow.

How to kick the habit?

The nicotine in cigarettes is an extremely addictive substance and, therefore, quitting isn’t easy. To wean you away from consuming tobacco, your dentist may prescribe nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products and medications. Some of these products can be purchased over the counter; others may require a prescription.Some NRTs that can help include:

  • Nicotine chewing gum
  • Patches
  • Nasal sprays
  • Inhalers
  • lozenges

An NHS report states that there is no evidence that using one method of nicotine replacement is more effective than another. However, there is strong evidence that supports using a combination of nicotine replacement therapies. This has proven to be more effective than using a single product alone.

For further advice and help to quit smoking or using tobacco products, contact Micris Dental Clinic. We have a whole slate of highly experienced dental specialists who can guide and support you in your journey towards better oral health. Our gum specialists can treat infections at both the early and advanced stages.


  1. National Health Service