Dental Associates

Tobacco and Oral Health

tobacco-and-oral-health.jpgIf the warning labels on cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products haven’t gotten the point across, let us reaffirm their message: smoking and tobacco are bad for your body and bad for your oral health.

Smoking and chewing tobacco risk factors:

  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Gum disease
  • Delayed tooth adjustment with orthodontic work
  • Poor healing after oral surgery
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth decay 
  • Failed dental implants

The best thing you can do for your teeth, mouth and health is to quit using tobacco; it’s the only way to decrease your risk of these and other tobacco-related health problems. It’s not easy because the nicotine in cigarettes, cigars, and pipe and chewing tobacco, is very addictive. But you can do it. And when you do you’ll be happier and healthier, and have a smile of which you can be most proud!

Impact of Smoking on Oral Health

When you take a puff of that cigarette, cigar or pipe, think beyond what it’s doing to your lungs and your heart. Think about what it’s doing to your mouth and teeth. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. As you inhale, the smoke lingers in your mouth before you exhale, even if you don’t inhale fully. Imagine what those 4,800 chemicals hanging around in your mouth can do to your teeth and gums. A lot. And none of it good.


Smoking directly affects your oral health because it:

  • Reduces blood flow to your gums
  • Reduces the Vitamin C levels needed to keep your gums healthy
  • Raises the temperature in the mouth, damaging and killing important cells

Smoking causes:

  • Bad breath 
  • Stained teeth and tongue
  • A dulled sense of taste and smell
  • Delayed healing after a mouth wound or having a tooth extracted 
  • Difficulties in correcting crooked teeth or misaligned bites
  • Gum disease, bone loss and tooth loss
  • Oral cancer

Smokers are bound to have dental problems. And with every puff, the problems get worse. Even if you feel you can’t quit fully, at least try and reduce the amount you smoke. That will help.

Impact of Smokeless Tobacco on Oral Health

If you think going smokeless with chew or snuff is better for your health, it’s not. By design, chew sits in your mouth along the gum line, right inside your cheek. All the chemicals that make chew so addictive irritate your gum tissue, causing it to pull away from your teeth. This irritation makes your gums more prone to gum disease. When the gum tissue pulls away, you’re at greater risk for tooth decay. Sugars are often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, too, so that increases your risk for tooth decay. And chew is often made with sand and grit, which wears downs your teeth.

Chewing tobacco is bad for oral health because it:

  • Eats away at your gums, causing gum recession and bone loss
  • Increases your risk of gum disease and tooth decay 
  • Causes leathery white patches and red sores in the mouth that can turn into cancer
  • Causes bad breath
  • Yellows teeth
  • Dulls the sense of taste
  • Slows the healing process after dental work, especially if it’s a tooth extraction or other oral surgery procedure

Smokeless tobacco users are up to 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer, especially in areas where tobacco is held in your mouth. You simply can’t brush or floss a statistic like that away. So, if you want to smile more and be happier about your teeth, mouth and overall health, the best thing to do is quit the dip.

Smoking and Bad Breath

Blame it on all those chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco. But there’s no way around it. Smokers and people who chew have bad breath. Every time you inhale, or every time you place a pinch of chewing tobacco in between your check and gum, you’re inviting tar and nicotine to hang out in your mouth. And they do. They find every crevice to cling to, including your teeth, gums, tongue and side of your cheeks. Brushing and flossing may help a little, but with every cigarette or pinch, you start all over again.

Smoking also dries out your mouth. When your mouth is dry, the saliva that should be flowing to be rinsing away the bacteria is missing. And without that saliva, bacteria hangs in your mouth. You’ve got bacteria, tar, nicotine and a bunch of other chemicals all clinging to your teeth, cheeks, gums, and tongue with nothing to help wash it away. A breath mint, or even a good tooth brushing isn’t going to make all that smell good. But quitting smoking and chewing tobacco will!

Tobacco and Oral Cancer

It’s not a pleasant topic to talk about. But it’s the truth. Smoking and chewing tobacco is the major cause of mouth, throat, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, tongue, lips and salivary gland cancer. All tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff, contain toxins and carcinogens which are poisonous substances and cancer-causing agents. The nicotine in these tobacco products is addictive. So in essence, when you smoke or chew, you become addicted to poison. Your body can only take so much of something that continues to be bad for it. So the more you smoke or chew, and the longer you smoke or chew, the higher at risk you become for getting cancer.

The primary risk factors for head and neck cancers are tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, but the human papilloma virus (HPV) has recently been associated with increasing throat cancer in non-smoking adults. According to the Center for Disease Control, as many as 60–70% cancers of the neck, throat and tonsils may be linked to HPV, and many of these may be caused by a combination of tobacco, alcohol, and HPV.

When you visit your Dental Associates dentist for your regular check-ups, an oral cancer evaluation is part of the routine exam. When asked questions about your alcohol and tobacco use, answer honestly, as that will help evaluate your risk.

Oral cancer symptoms:

  • Lumps or rough spots on the lips, gums, or other areas inside the mouth that do not heal
  • Velvety white, red, or speckled (white and red) patches in the mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding in the mouth
  • Unexplained numbness, loss of feeling, or pain in any area of the face, mouth, or neck
  • Persistent sores on the face, neck, or mouth that bleed easily and do not heal
  • A soreness or feeling that something is caught in the back of the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking, or moving the jaw or tongue
  • Hoarseness, sore throat or change in voice that does not go back to normal
  • Ear pain
  • A change in the way your teeth look or dentures fit
  • Loose teeth

Your best defense against oral cancer is to stop using tobacco, whether you’re a smoker or a dipper. It’s not easy because tobacco is highly addictive. But if you have a plan, set goals and find a good support network to help you, you can do it. Talk to your dentist or doctor, too. They may be able to offer you resources and even medication to help. When you quit using tobacco, you’ll be at less risk for gum disease, bad breath, stained teeth and cancer. You’ll be happier and healthier, and have a huge reason to smile!