Smokers teeth: How smoking affects your oral health.

By David Cruickshank

“We all know smoking is bad but what effect does it have on our mouths?”.

Does smoking affect the health of my mouth?


It is common knowledge that smoking is very damaging to your health. It can be directly responsible for many ailments  and potentially life-threatening diseases.  Unfortunately, many people don’t realise the damage that smoking does to their oral health as well. Smoking regularly can cause the following:
  • Stained and discoloured teeth.
  • Bad breath.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Gum disease.
  • Bone loss.
  • Hairy tongue.
  • Oral leukoplakia.
  • Mouth cancer.

Why are my teeth yellow?

One of the most obvious side effects of smoking is staining on the teeth. The nicotine and tar in cigarettes can turn teeth yellow in a very short space of time. Heavy smokers will find their teeth becoming brown if they continue the habit for years.

Why do Smokers have bad breath?

People who smoke are far more likely to suffer from bad breath or halitosis. In the case of a smoker, bad breath is often described as “smokers breath”. There are a number of reasons that smoking affects the freshness of breath. Firstly, after smoking a cigarette, smoke particles can remain in the mouth and lungs for hours afterwards. This causes a stale cigarette odor that is often noticeable on the breath. It is not just stale smoke that is the problem, as a cigarette is burnt and inhaled it  gives off smelly chemical compounds that can also  remain in the saliva for some time afterwards.

Does smoking really cause tooth decay?

As cigarette smoke is repeatedly inhaled it naturally drys the mouth and prevents saliva from bathing the teeth and gums. Saliva is nature’s way of keeping the teeth clean but a dry mouth allows bacteria to thrive and form plaque and tartar quicker than normal. People who smoke are likely to produce more bacterial plaque than people who don’t. A build up of plaque and tartar will eventually lead to tooth decay.

How does smoking affect the gums?

Smoking can cause an increase in the amount of plaque produced every day. Unless this plaque is removed effectively it can irritate and infect the gums.Because smoking decreases the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream any prevalent gum infection might not heal in the way it would in a nonsmoker. Gum disease in a smoker will worsen and spread quicker than in a non-smoker. Gum disease is still the most common cause of tooth loss.

Why does smoking affect the jaw bone?

Smokers are likely to create a higher amount of plaque than non-smokers and are therefore more likely to suffer from tooth decay and gum disease. Smoking reduces the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream and reduces the bodies natural defences and healing power. Gum disease in a person that smokes is likely to spread faster and more aggressively than would normally be the case. If the infection reaches the jaw bone the bacterial toxins will start to eat away at the bone tissue resulting in serious bone deterioration.

What is Hairy Tongue?

Although it sounds horrifying, hairy tongue is actually quite harmless. Hairy tongue is caused when the surface papillae don’t shed as normal but instead grow longer and start to take on a hair-like appearance. Bacteria and food particles begin to collect in this covering worsening the effect. Hairy tongue can be caused by smoking, poor oral hygiene, medications, dry mouth, drinking too much coffee or tea or a combination of the above. Usually, the condition is temporary and can often be rectified with improving oral hygiene.

What is Oral leukoplakia?

Oral leukoplakia is identified as a white patch of plaque that can appear in the following places :
  • Gums
  • Sides or underneath tongue
  • Lower lip
  • Floor of mouth
  • soft palate
Although these white patches are usually completely pain-free, they can be associated with instances of mouth cancer. Any suspicious white patch should be examined by a dentist to assess any danger. Smokers are 6 times as likely to develop oral leukoplakia than non-smokers.

Does smoking cause mouth cancer?

Most people are aware that smoking is directly linked with lung cancer and throat cancer, but many people still don’t know that it is one of the main causes of mouth cancer. Thousands of people are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year.

What can smokers do to improve oral health?

Smokers can use whitening toothpaste to remove excess staining of the teeth. Although the best whitening toothpaste can be effect at removing stains they will not whiten teeth beyond their natural color. For best results, smokers may benefit from professional whitening treatments at the dentist if they are concerned by the color of their teeth. An electric toothbrush can be especially useful for smokers. Electric toothbrushes have been clinically proven to be more effective at removing plaque than manual brushes and are a sensible choice for smokers. Flossing is vitally important for everyone’s oral health but even more so for smokers. A build up of plaque between the teeth will lead to tooth decay and a deterioration of gum health. Diligent flossing with dental floss or power flossing with a water flosser with go a long way to protecting the health of the teeth and gums. A good mouthwash can also be a useful product to have on hand. Smokers are more likely to suffer from bad breath regularly and a mouthwash can help to mask and disguise the problem.

Should smokers visit the dentist more often?

It is important for everybody to visit their dentist for regular check ups. Your dental team will advise on the appropriate frequency. Smokers usually suffer from stained teeth and an extra build up of plaque and tartar so It is not uncommon for smokers to require more attention than a nonsmoker. What does a dentist look for during a checkup? During a regular checkup, the dentist will check the teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue, and throat for any conditions that may require investigation or treatment. It is important for everybody to get regular examinations but especially important for smokers who have a greater risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth cancer. The dental team may also be able to recommend organisations and self -help groups to help individuals give up smoking.

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