SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Smoking can impact your oral health.
- People who smoke are at a higher risk of developing mouth cancer (oral), gum problems, losing teeth, decay on the roots of teeth, and complications after tooth removal and gum and oral surgery.
- If you smoke tobacco or vape, it is important to look after your oral health to prevent dental problems and gum disease.
- Visit your dentist regularly. They can give advice about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and do regular oral health and mouth cancer checks.
- Speak to your doctor or dentist about quitting smoking.
People who smoke have a higher risk of gum problems, tooth loss, complications after tooth removal and surgery in the mouth, and developing mouth cancer. They are more likely to get infections and don’t heal as well as non-smokers.
Quitting smoking improves mouth cancer, reduces the risk of developing gum disease and mouth cancer, and improves the person’s response to gum treatment.
It is very important for people who smoke to visit their dentist regularly to keep their teeth and gums healthy and check for signs of mouth cancer.
It is also important for people who vape to visit a dentist regularly to detect and treat any oral health problems. If you vape, make sure to tell your dentist this.
Less adults smoke now than they used to, but it still remains a problem. In 2018, 10.7% of Victorian adults smoked.
How does smoking affect teeth, gums and oral health?
The most common oral problems affecting people who smoke are:
- Whitening of the soft tissue in the mouth (called smoker’s keratosis).
- Poor healing after tooth removal (known as dry socket).
- Tooth loss.
- Poor healing after mouth and gum surgery.
- Decreased taste.
- Bad taste in the mouth and .
Smoking and gum (periodontal) disease
Smoking can cause gum disease.
Bacteria and food debris called dental plaque can cause gum disease.
If left on teeth and gums, plaque hardens to form calculus or tartar. The plaque and calculus irritate the gums around teeth. This is often seen in people who smoke.
The two stages of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.
If periodontitis is not treated, the structures that hold the tooth to the gum can become damaged. Teeth may become loose, fall out by themselves, or a dentist may have to remove them.
Preventing tooth loss is important
It is important to prevent tooth loss. Losing teeth towards the back of your mouth can create problems with chewing food.
Losing teeth at the front of the mouth affects your ability to eat, your appearance, and can create problems with speech.
Teeth also play an important part in holding the shape of the lower part of the face.
Smoking increases gum disease risk
The risk of gum disease is higher:
- For a person who smokes less than 10 cigarettes a day, compared to someone who smokes none.
- This increases 4 to 5 times more likely for people who smoke heavily.
If you smoke the following may occur:
- Tooth loss (of some or all your natural teeth), making it difficult to chew certain foods, speak clearly or have confidence to smile if lost teeth aren’t replaced.
- Gum disease may be harder to detect. Bleeding gums – usually an indication of gum disease – may not be present as tobacco causes poor blood supply to the gums. Not respond as well to gum treatment (professional dental cleaning) as non-smokers.
- Severe periodontal disease – the risk increases with .
- At a higher risk of developing acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis. This is very painful condition that causes a terrible smell and taste.
Will my gums get better if I stop smoking?
Smoking and symptoms of gum disease
If you smoke, it is important to see your dentist for regular check-ups. Symptoms of gum disease to watch for include:
- Red, swollen, tender, bleeding gums.
- Discharge (pus) coming from your gums.
- Gums that are loose and pull away from your teeth.
- A bad taste or bad breath.
- Loose teeth. This can change the feel of your bite when your teeth are placed together or make dentures fit differently.
- Spaces opening between your teeth.
Smoking and slow healing after dental treatment
Smoking may lead to:
- Dry socket – a slow healing tooth socket after a tooth removal which is very painful.
- Increased pain after oral and gum surgery.
- Less success if you have dental implants.
Contact your dentist if you have any problems after dental treatment.
Mouth cancer and smoking risk
More than 746 Victorians are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year.
People who smoke and drink alcohol have an even greater risk of developing mouth cancer than those who just do one or the other.
Eventually, those who have quit smoking have the same risk of developing mouth cancer as non-smokers, so it’s never too late to quit.
Mouth cancer in people who smoke is most likely to occur on the side of the tongue, the floor of the mouth and lips. It can also happen in other areas of the mouth.
Symptoms of mouth cancer
Please see your dentist or doctor immediately if you notice any:
- Persistent or on your lip that does not disappear after 7 to 10 days, particularly if the ulcer is not painful.
- White or red patch in your mouth.
- Swelling in your mouth.
- Dentures suddenly not fitting properly.
Health risks of vaping
- Heavy metals.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Cancer-causing chemicals.
The risk of vaping devices causing problems in your mouth is much higher if they contain nicotine.
The long-term effects of vaping are not fully known. Yet there is some evidence that vaping can cause inflammation in the mouth, which can lead to gum disease and other oral health problems.
Temporary loss of taste may happen in some people (also called vape tongue).
Vaping may be seen as a way to quit smoking. Yet vaping may make it harder to quit smoking completely which increases the risk of diseases associated with tobacco use, such as mouth cancer.
Preventing teeth and gum problems in smokers
If you are a smoker, there are some things you can do to prevent tooth and gum problems, including:
- – speak to your doctor, dentist or call Quitline for guidance and support.
- If you’re finding it difficult to quit smoking, try and reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke to start off with.
- Clean your teeth and gums twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss (for small gaps) or interdental brushes (for big gaps) once a day to clean between your teeth.
- Visit your dentist every 6 to 12 months. They can provide advice about the proper care of your teeth and gums at home and find problems early. Regular visits can help to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Avoid having a dry mouth. Drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow. This is especially important if you take medications that cause dry mouth.
- Limit alcohol and avoid recreational drugs.
Where to get help
- , Quit.
- , healthdirect.
- , Better Health Channel, Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
- , 2020, Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
- , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA.
- Ramseier CA, Anerud A, Dulac M, Lulic M, Cullinan MP, Seymour GJ, Faddy MJ, Bürgin W, Schätzle M, Lang NP. Natural history of periodontitis: disease progression and tooth loss over 40 years. J Clin Periodontol. 2017 Dec; 44(12):1182–91.
- Sato F, Sawamura M, Ojima M, Tanaka K, Hanioka T, Tanaka H, Matsuo K. Smoking increases risk of tooth loss: a meta-analysis of the literature. World J Meta-Anal. 2013;1(1):16–26.