What Smoking Does To Your Oral Health

Posted on Mar 13, 2018 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

I saw a television commercial recently that caught my attention. It was a court mandated announcement on how low-tar and ‘light’ cigarettes were just as harmful as regular cigarettes.

The announcement, to me, was a reminder of just how much major tobacco companies have concealed the true harm that comes from inhaling cigarette smoke. Although the lungs are assumed to take the greatest impact from these toxic fumes, remember – it is your mouth that is the initial recipient of the poisons from this smoke.

Oral tissues (the soft, pink tissues in your mouth) are moist because they are absorbent. Saliva flow helps to keep the mouth moist along with the liquids you consume that keep the mouth and your body hydrated. Because gum tissues absorb, they take the brunt of the toxic smoke that enters the mouth with each puff.

Tobacco contains chemicals that are known to be harmful, including:

•Nicotine (a rapidly-addictive drug)
•Hydrogen cyanide
•Carbon monoxide
•Radioactive elements, such as uranium (see below)
•Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)


Smokers shorten their life expectancy by an average of 10 to 15 years. Smoking is responsible for an estimated 30 percent of all cancer deaths and is the reason for 90 percent of all lung cancers.

Smoking increases the likelihood of leukemia as well as pancreatic, liver, cervical, kidney, bladder and stomach cancers. Additionally, it causes emphysema and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Smoking and chewing tobacco also causes 80 – 90 percent of oral cancers (mouth, lips, throat).

Second-hand smoke is harmful to those in range of your smoking. Your exhaled smoke can lead to the development of numerous diseases in loved ones, including cancer and heart disease. Young children take the biggest brunt of secondhand smoke with studies showing children of smoking parents being sick more often, having more respiratory infections (including bronchitis and pneumonia), and having ear infections more often.

As a periodontist, my dental specialty focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of all stages of periodontal (gum) disease as well as the placement of dental implants. When it comes to smokers, I have a unique view of what this does to one’s oral health.

When it comes to a smile, smokers have a higher risk for gum disease, bad breath, stained teeth, and higher levels of dental plaque. A smoker requires longer healing periods after extractions, oral surgery or gum therapy. Smoking is also a noted cause for dental implant failure.

The increased risk for gum disease is primarily the result of the drying effects that cigarette smoke has on oral tissues. A dry mouth creates a welcoming environment for oral bacteria accumulation and reproduction.

In its initial stages, gum disease causes persistent bad breath, tender gums that bleed when brushing, and gums that turn red in color. As it worsens, pus pockets form on gums and the infectious bacteria destroy bone and tissue structures that support tooth roots. Eventually, teeth will loosen and require removal.

In our office, we do not lecture patients. We respect individual preferences and feel it is our job to help patients to be informed rather than reprimanded. However, if you have not included your smile as one of the many reasons to kick the habit, you should.

Please note – Not only is gum disease an inflammatory disease, it has been associated with a number of serious health problems. These include heart disease, stroke, Alzheimers disease arthritis, diabetes, preterm babies, erectile dysfunction, and impotency. Add these to the long list associated with cigarette smoke and you have even more reasons to quit. Although, we know it is not an easy thing to do.

There are a number of online support sources for those who do wish to quit. Consider starting with the American Cancer Society’s online support at:


If you smoke or have noticed signs of gum disease, call for an examination. Be aware that gum disease only worsens without treatment and is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss. Call 828-274-9440 to schedule.

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