Updated on February 9, 2024
5 min read

How Smoking Affects Your Mouth and Oral Health

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Quitting smoking reduces the risk of many health problems and adds as much as a decade to a person’s life expectancy.1 People who smoke are at increased risk of developing gum disease and other oral health problems, including tooth loss and mouth cancer.

This article explains how tobacco use affects the mouth’s teeth, gums, and soft tissues. It also provides tips on how smokers can improve their oral health before and after they quit smoking.

Smoking and Oral Cancer Risk

Tobacco users have an increased risk for oral cancer and many other types of cancer. Different tobacco products are associated with specific cancer risks:

Cigarettes

Regular cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco. They contain more than 60 cancer-causing substances. Cigarette smokers are 10 times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers.4

Pipes and Cigars

It’s a common misunderstanding that tobacco smoke is less harmful if it isn’t inhaled. Pipe and cigar smoke are risk factors for mouth, throat, esophagus, and lung cancers.

Chewing Tobacco

Even smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco and snuff are major health risks. Chewing tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer in the cheeks, lips, and gums.

Can You Save Your Gums from Smoking?

If you smoke, quitting is the best way to improve your oral health. It’ll greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, oral cancer, and other health problems like heart and lung disease.

It’s never too late to quit. The longer you smoke, the higher your risk for gum disease. Even cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke can lower your risk. 

Additionally, treatments for gum disease are more likely to work if you quit smoking.

Oral Hygiene Tips for Smokers

Smoking increases the amount of bad bacteria in your mouth, which is one reason oral hygiene is crucial. An oral care routine for smokers should include:

Call your dentist immediately if you notice anything irregular, such as increased tooth sensitivity. Don’t wait until your next routine exam.

What Does a Smoker’s Mouth Look Like?

Cigarette smokers, pipe smokers, and people who use smokeless tobacco products are more likely to develop oral health issues. 

Some oral effects of smoking include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum recession
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Stained teeth and gums
  • Bone loss in the jaw
  • Discolored overgrowth of tongue papillae (black hairy tongue)
  • Reduced success rate of dental implants
  • Increased buildup of tartar and dental plaque
  • Inflamed salivary glands on the roof of the mouth
  • Higher risk of periodontal disease (gum disease) and tooth loss
  • Slow healing after periodontal treatment, tooth extraction, or other dental work
  • Greater risk of oral cancer

How Does Smoking Affect Gums?

Smoking is the most significant risk factor for gum disease.3 Gum disease results in the loss of bone and soft tissue, which serve as connection points for your teeth. Therefore, gum disease is a leading cause of lost teeth in adults.7

People who smoke are not only at greater risk of developing gum disease, their symptoms are more severe than non-smokers. Additionally, smoking lowers the success rate of treating periodontal disease.7

Smoking reduces blood flow to the oral tissues. This interferes with wound healing and increases the risk of gum infections after treatment.

What are Smoker’s Gums?

Smoker’s melanosis is the darkening of the gums, lips, and soft palate of the mouth due to smoking. It affects about 5% to 22% of cigarette and pipe smokers.

This benign (noncancerous) condition most often affects the gum tissue around the upper and lower front teeth. The more a person smokes the darker the discoloration.

Smoker’s melanosis has no treatment. However, the gums usually return to their normal color within 6 to 36 months after people with this condition quit smoking.

Healthy Gums vs. Smoker’s Gums

healthy gums smile

Healthy gums are firm and pink in color. Any redness, swelling, or bleeding may be warning signs of gum disease. These signs can be masked in a smoker’s gums.

Even though smokers’ gums aren’t healthy, they’re less likely to show redness and bleeding. This is because the nicotine in tobacco reduces circulation to the tiny blood vessels in the gums.

What are the Signs of Gum Disease from Smoking?

Smokers have twice the risk of developing gum disease compared to non-smokers.2 Signs and symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Gum redness or swelling
  • Bleeding gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth (receded)
  • Painful chewing
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Persistent bad breath

How Is Gum Disease Treated?

Early periodontal disease (gingivitis) may be treatable with regular cleanings at your dentist’s office and good oral hygiene at home. This includes brushing your teeth for at least two minutes daily and flossing.

Treatment for more advanced periodontal disease (periodontitis) may require:

  • Deep cleaning below the gum line
  • Prescription medicine or mouth rinse
  • Surgery to remove tartar
  • Laser treatment 
  • Bone graft surgery

Your likelihood of healing properly after periodontal treatment will improve dramatically if you quit smoking.

Can Gum Health Improve After Quitting Smoking?

That depends on the extent of gum disease when you quit smoking. If caught early, your gum health will likely improve after quitting. However, this isn’t necessarily the case if you’ve experienced significant bone and/ or tissue loss.

Talk to your dentist about the gum health improvement you can expect after quitting smoking.

Will Gums Lighten If You Stop Smoking?

Gum tissue darkened due to smoker’s melanosis will return to its usual color within 6 to 36 months after you stop smoking.

Summary

Smoking causes various dental problems, including an increased risk for gum disease. Smoking also reduces the success rate of dental treatments due to slow healing.

People who smoke may not notice the signs of gum disease because smoker’s gums are less likely to turn red and swell. This is due to poor circulation. Other gum disease symptoms include painful chewing, loose teeth, and increased tooth sensitivity.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products increase the risk of oral cancers. Quitting dramatically reduces your risk for oral diseases and other health problems.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General — Key Findings.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.
  2. Tips From Former Smokers®: Gum (Periodontal) Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  3. Periodontal (Gum) Disease.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2023.
  4. Oral Cancer and Tobacco.” Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  5. Oral Changes Associated with Tobacco Use.” The American Academy of Oral Medicine, 2008.
  6. Taghizadeh et al. “Smokers melanosis: A case report.” Tobacco Induced Diseases, 2018.
  7. Borojevic, T. “Smoking and Periodontal Disease.” Materia Sociomedica, Journal of the Academy of Medical Science of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2012.
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