Nine Oral Health Reasons to Quit Smoking

Have you been thinking about kicking the habit? You’ve probably already heard that smoking increases the risk of cancer and lung disease, but did you know that many oral health problems can also be caused by smoking?  Here’s some information that can shed new light on tobacco use and your health. 

Spot the Warning Signs 

Problems with your teeth and gums may be the first visible signs that smoking is damaging your health. Have you noticed your gums seem to be red or swollen? Are they tender, or do they seem to be receding from some of your teeth? Do you have occasional bleeding when you brush? These symptoms are signs of gingivitis — the early stage of gum disease that can lead to tooth loss. 

Nine Reasons to Quit Smoking

Current medical thinking suggests that smoking suppresses the immune system1, leaving gums prone to infection. In fact, research has shown that smokers were more than 50 percent more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers2. But if you need more reasons to take that first step to kicking the habit, here’s a list of reasons to quit smoking2.

  1. Smokers incur twice the tooth loss of non-smokers, due to plaque and tartar buildup that encourages dental decay.3
  2. Smokers are diagnosed with infected tooth roots at twice the rate of non-smokers4 (and exposed roots are more sensitive to hot and cold foods and beverages, making eating painful).
  3. Smoking reduces your ability to fight infection throughout the body, including in the mouth and gums.3
  4. Smoking causes bad breath (and it’s much more pleasant to kiss a non-smoker!).3
  5. Smoking slows your body’s ability to heal from injury or surgery (including tooth extraction and oral surgery).3
  6. Smoking reduces the effectiveness of gum disease treatments (periodontal treatment) that stop or delay tooth loss.3
  7. Smoking can discolor teeth. (Did you know studies indicate that most people consider a white, healthy smile as an indicator of youth and vigor?)
  8. Smoking can cause inflammation of the salivary gland openings on the roof of the mouth.3
  9. Tobacco use increases the risk of developing cancer.2 (According to the American Cancer Society, about 90% of people with cancer of the mouth, lips, tongue and throat use tobacco, and the risk increases with the amount smoked or chewed and the duration of the habit. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop these cancers.)

So by now you might be wondering if pipes, cigars and smokeless tobacco carry the same risks as cigarettes.  In a word — yes! All of the risks that apply to cigarettes also apply to other tobacco products. Additionally, options like snuff and chewing tobacco contain chemicals that increase the risks of oral cancer and cancers of the throat and esophagus. Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing periodontal disease due to gum recession. 

Has the Damage Already Been Done?

Not necessarily. No matter how long you’ve used tobacco products, quitting now can significantly reduce your risk of gum disease, tooth loss and many other oral health problems. Even reducing the amount you smoke appears to have incremental benefits — although your risk is not lowered as substantially as if you quit altogether. And over time, many of these health risks will diminish until they are almost at levels for non-smokers.

Tools You Can Use

There are many nicotine replacement therapies available to help you quit. These include a transdermal nicotine patch (worn for 24 hours over several weeks with a dissipating flow of nicotine), nicotine gums, lozenges, sprays and inhalers. You may find that seeking counseling or a support program can be helpful too. Talk to your dentist and physician; they can help you locate counseling and support programs — such as your local American Cancer Society chapter (800-ACS-2345 or 800-227-2345) and the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines (800-QUIT-NOW or 800-784-8669). 

We know it isn’t easy to give up tobacco, but there are some great benefits to doing so. You may notice food tastes better, your sense of smell is more acute and you can more easily be active without getting winded. And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re keeping your mouth — and your entire body — healthy.


1 University of Berkeley California, Wellness Letter, January 2008 Issue

2 American Cancer Society,  September 2012. Retrieved from

3 Smoking and Oral Health. Web MD. October 26,2012. Retrieved from:

4 Smoking Nearly Doubles Root Canal Requirements. MedPage. October 29, 2012. Retrieved from:

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.