Gum Disease and Smoking

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but most people don’t know that lighting up also affects your teeth and gums. However, the damage goes beyond yellow nicotine stains on the surface of the teeth.

What Does Smoking Do to Your Teeth?

Around 15% of Americans over the age of 18 in the United States are smokers. And, while the Surgeon General has warned people for decades about the dangers of smoking, many people still don’t understand just how much it can impact your oral health.

When it comes to eating and drinking your mouth is the entry point into your body. This is true for smoking as well. Smoking is a leading contributor to teeth discoloration. Tooth enamel often has very fine cracks. As you age, those cracks absorb what goes into your mouth. This means that with each cigarette, more and more nicotine and tar get into those fine cracks. While brushing may help, it’s often not enough to completely remove these deep stains. However, the potential damage doesn’t stop there.

What Does Smoking Do to Your Mouth?

During your regular dental visits, your dentist is not only looking for tooth decay but also for signs of oral cancer. It’s well known that smoking can lead to lung cancer, however, it’s also a major contributor when it comes to the formation of oral cancer. Even smokeless tobacco products pose a significant cancer risk.

In addition to an increased risk of oral cancer, smokers are six times more likely to suffer from severe gum destruction in comparison to people who do not smoke. Smoking also makes treating gum disease much more difficult. This is because it decreases the patient’s ability to heal. So, if you find yourself fighting gum disease, smoking will make your battle that much harder.

Recent studies have also shown that people who smoke regularly have much lower levels of the good types of oral bacteria while also having much higher levels of the bad types of oral bacteria, especially those linked to severe periodontal disease.

How Does Smoking Contribute to Tooth Loss?

Chronic smokers typically lose their teeth earlier than non-smokers. One leading cause of this is that smoking tobacco reduces the levels of oxygen within your bloodstream. This oxygen is vital to your body’s healing process. So, when you experience dental problems, you’ll heal much more slowly. In addition, this slower healing time and increased bacteria from smoking put you at a much higher risk of getting a serious infection due to your body’s compromised ability to heal.

Smoking and Gum Disease

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, affects millions of Americans each year. Most of these individuals simply have a mild case of gum disease, but about 30% have severe gum disease.

Gum disease occurs when gums become inflamed as a result of bad bacteria build-up in the “plaque” that is found on your teeth. This infection can worsen and spread if not taken care of in the early stages. In fact, gum disease can progress to the surrounding ligaments and bones that support your teeth, eventually leading to tooth loss.

Gum disease is one of the biggest causes of tooth loss in adults, with smoking being a major factor. Due to the body’s decreased ability to heal, gum disease progresses much more quickly in chronic smokers.

Types of Gum Disease

Gum disease is primarily broken down into two primary stages.


Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. This is typically when you notice some inflammation and tenderness as well as bleeding when brushing or flossing. At this stage, if treated, there should be no lasting damage to the connective tissue or the bone.


When you reach this stage of gum disease, it means that it has advanced below your gum line. The bacteria in the plaque create toxins that irritate gums and open the door for infection that eats away at surrounding tissues including bone. When this plaque hardens it is then known as tartar. Tartar can irritate gum tissue further and provide more growing area for bacteria. At this point, the gums begin to detach from the tooth. This forms a pocket between the gums and the teeth. The depth of this pocket corresponds directly with the risk of permanent damage.

As gum disease progresses, you may begin to notice your teeth becoming loose as the surrounding bone and tissue is destroyed. With nothing left to anchor them in place, teeth may begin to fall out. While cigarettes may not directly cause teeth to decay, they certainly do cause erosion that can lead to tooth loss.

What If You Lose Your Teeth?

Some smokers assume they can simply get implants or dentures if they lose one or more teeth due to smoking. However, it’s vital to remember that dental implants can only be inserted into a healthy jawbone. If you’ve experienced tooth loss because the bone and surrounding tissue has eroded away, then there’s a good chance that your jaw isn’t suitable for dental implants.

While dentures are a common alternative to implants, your jaw will continue to degrade without stimulation from your teeth or implants. This means that your dentures will require regular fittings to ensure they fit properly as your jawbone erodes.

Protecting Your Oral Health

The best thing you can do for your oral health is to never start smoking or stop smoking if you already do. In fact, it’s best to avoid all tobacco products altogether. If you do continue to use tobacco products, let your dentist know. They may recommend more frequent appointments to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. If you’ve already developed periodontal disease, then work with your dentist to treat the problem. This may mean temporarily or permanently quitting smoking in order to allow your immune system time to recharge and your mouth time to heal.

Please contact Lee Family Dentistry at (301) 662-0300 to arrange your dental appointment and oral cancer screening.


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