How Quitting Smoking Can Improve Your Oral Health
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 34 million American adults still smoke cigarettes. While the rates of cigarette smoking have declined over the last 30 years, smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world.1
You probably know that smoking can significantly damage your heart and lungs. However, you may not realize that smoking can be detrimental to your oral health as well.
Let’s examine the ways in which smoking can pave the way for oral health concerns and how quitting smoking can reduce or even reverse the negative health effects, setting the stage for a healthy mouth and body.
How Smoking Impacts Your Oral Health
From superficial issues like tooth staining, to severe problems like oral cancer, smoking has a particularly harmful impact on oral health.
You’ll find over 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes, including nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, and N-nitrosamines. All of these chemicals can interfere with the normal functioning of the cells in your gum tissue and lead to a host of problems including tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer.2
Smoking contributes to stained teeth and bad breath
Both nicotine and tar found in cigarettes contribute to tooth staining and bad breath. While nicotine is initially colorless, when it comes into contact with oxygen, it turns a yellowish color that can stain your teeth. Furthermore, cigarette tar can become trapped in the enamel of your teeth, which promotes additional discoloration.
The chemicals in cigarettes can adhere to all of the surfaces of your oral cavity, resulting in “smoker’s breath.” Additionally, smoking can cause dry mouth, allowing odor-causing bacteria to flourish.
Smoking raises gum disease risk
Smoking can increase your risk of gum disease by increasing bacterial plaque in your mouth and by decreasing oxygen levels that would normally allow your gums to stay healthy.3
The bacteria on your teeth caused by smoking can get trapped under your gums and lead to gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease. If left unchecked, gum disease can progress to periodontal disease, which can trigger the breakdown of supportive tissue and bone that surrounds your teeth.3
Smoking can lead to tooth loss
Tobacco interferes with blood flow to your gums and deprives them of oxygen and important nutrients needed to maintain their health. Furthermore, smoking can cause an increase of bacteria in the mouth which can promote plaque buildup. The buildup of plaque can begin to decay tooth enamel and destroy the tissue and bone that support your teeth.
Severe periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 43% of adults aged 65 or older who currently smoke cigarettes have lost all of their teeth.4
Smoking promotes oral cancer
Cigarette smoke contains a whopping 70 carcinogens. When inhaled, these carcinogens can cause genetic changes within the cells of your mouth which can lead to the development of oral cancer.
According to one recent study, the risk of developing oral cancer is 7 to 10 times higher for smokers compared to nonsmokers.5
Smoking can disrupt healthy oral microbiome
Current research suggests that the toxins in cigarette smoke can interfere with the quantity and diversity of your oral microbiome. One 2021 study found that smoking can deprive oxygen availability to healthy microbes within the oral cavity, which can disrupt their growth. Researchers found that this disruption increased bacteria associated with various diseases among smokers.6
Additionally, another study compared the oral microbiomes of smokers and non-smokers and found that the mouths of smokers had more Veillonella and Actinomyces bacteria. These bacteria can consume more nitrate which can create a more carcinogenic effect. This discovery lead researchers to believe that smoking may make the oral bacterial microbiome carcinogenic.7
How Quitting Smoking Can Improve Your Oral Health
No matter how long you’ve smoked for, quitting smoking can help reduce, or even reverse the negative health effects associated with smoking. The oral health benefits of quitting smoking can:
Lower your risk of developing oral cancer
Improve the health of your gums
Promote normal saliva production
Decrease your risk of periodontal disease
Reduce the quantity of harmful bacteria in your mouth
Help promote the growth of healthy bacteria within your oral microbiome
While quitting smoking isn’t easy, you can increase your chances of success with a solid plan and encouragement.
There are a variety of over-the-counter medications that can help ease the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal to help make quitting easier. These include nicotine gums, patches, and lozenges.
Additionally, there are several different medications available by prescription to help you quit, which include nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays, Zyban, and Chantix. Furthermore, counseling coupled with medication can double or even triple the likelihood of success.
It’s important to remember that it may take more than one attempt at quitting smoking for you to be successful– so don’t give up! Quitting smoking can not only benefit your oral health but can add as much as 10 years to your life.8
1. Great American Smokeout. American Cancer Society. (2022). Cancer.org
2. Couch ET, Chaffee BW, Gansky SA, Walsh MM. (2016). J Am Dent Assoc, PubMed.gov
3. Gautam DK, Jindal V, Gupta SC, Tuli A, Kotwal B, Thakur R.(2011). J Indian Soc Periodontol, PubMed Central.
4. Older Adults and Tooth Loss by Smoking Status (2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
5. Zhang Y, He J, He B, Huang R, Li M. (2019). Tob Induc Dis, PubMed Central.
6. Jia YJ, Liao Y, He YQ, Zheng MQ, Tong XT, Xue WQ, Zhang JB, Yuan LL, Zhang WL, Jia WH. (2021). Front Cell Infect Microbiol, Frontiers.org
7. Karabudak S, Ari O, Durmaz B, Dal T, Basyigit T, Kalcioglu MT, Durmaz R. (2019). J Med Microbiol, PubMed.gov
8. Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. American Cancer Society. (2020). cancer.org