Smoking causes a myriad of dental health complications. These include bad breath, a diminished sense of taste and generalized staining on the teeth due to the nicotine and tar in the tobacco. Smoking can make the teeth appear yellow in a very short period of time. Heavy smokers often complain that their teeth are almost brown after years of smoking. Smoking also can weaken the body’s immune system which makes it harder to fight off gum infections.

How does smoking cause gum disease and tooth loss?

Smoking can promote periodontal (gum) disease and tooth loss. One theory of how this happens is tobacco may restrict the blood flow to the gum tissues, which would limit the nutrients necessary to the bone and periodontal support of the teeth. Another theory is that smoking causes a chain of events in the mouth that eventually leads to tooth loss. The chain starts with plaque build-up on teeth. People who smoke are more likely to produce bacterial plaque which is linked to tartar build-up. From there, a person can develop periodontal disease and the final result is potential tooth loss. Once a person has gum damage, smoking makes it harder for the gums to heal.

What does smoking mean for oral health?

  • Twice the risk for gum disease compared with a nonsmoker.
  • The more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk for gum disease.
  • The longer the period one smokes, the greater the risk for gum disease.
  • Treatments for gum disease may not work as well for one who smokes.

Tobacco use in any form—cigarettes, pipes, vaping and smokeless (spit) tobacco—raises your risk for gum disease and oral cancer.

Dental Tips for Smokers

If one smokes, here are a few dental tips that can help address your dental hygiene problems:

  • Use mouthwash religiously. Pick a strong formula that will zap bacteria. Make sure to swish for at least 60 seconds to kill as many bacteria as possible.
  • Floss every day. Flossing is especially vital for smokers, as it is an effective way to avoid the buildup of plaque on teeth in those difficult to reach areas. If a lot of bleeding occurs when one uses floss, it could be a sign of early periodontal disease.
  • Have the tongue and gums checked closely at regular dental appointments. Let the dentist  know if you smoke, so they can closely watch for signs of periodontal disease and oral cancer. The quicker one acts after detecting something, the greater the chance of catching a serious problem early.