Over 16 million people live with at least one disease caused by smoking, and 58 million nonsmoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers smoking to be the leading cause of preventable disease in the country. While most of us know smoking is bad for your lungs, many people forget the dangers and negative impact it can have to your overall oral health.

Smoking can lead to gum disease, halitosis, tooth staining, tooth loss, and even mouth cancer. In fact, it’s one of the main causes of mouth cancer. Unfortunately, each year thousands of people die from mouth cancer caused by smoking cigarettes.

Your risk of developing oral health issues only increases and gum disease doubles when you smoke. Long-term smokers have a weakened immune system, making it challenging for their body to fight infections in their gums. With each cigarette, the gums become increasingly more damaged and they become less capable of healing themselves.

According to the CDC, warning signs and symptoms of gum disease are:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth

If you experience any of these symptoms you should contact your local dentist immediately.

Along with cancer and gum disease, smoking can also cause other serious oral health issues, including:

  • Dry Mouth & Halitosis. Many smokers experience dry mouth, and if you’ve ever stood close to a smoker you’ve probably noticed they have bad breath; also known as halitosis. When cigarette users inhale smoke, their salivary glands can become blocked and damaged, which produces dry mouth from the lack of saliva. The halitosis is caused by an increase of bacteria in the mouth. Unfortunately, these symptoms can also produce mouth sores, oral fungal infections and gum disease.
  • Gum Recession & Tooth Loss. The American Dental Associations warns that cigarette use can increase your risk of gum recession. Gum recession is very painful as your gums literally pull away from your teeth exposing the roots. Once your gums recede your chance of gum disease and losing some teeth also increase.
  • Tooth Decay. Smoking can also cause cavities as nicotine can increase plaque buildup on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque feeds on the sugars inside your mouth producing acids, and these acids strip away your tooth enamel producing cavities. From reading our previous blogs on the dangers of plaque, you know that plaque can quickly become a problem leading to a variety of oral health concerns.

E-Cigarettes are not safe and can cause the same oral health issues as traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette use still increase your risk for oral cancer and the nicotine contained in e-cigarettes will dry out your mouth, can cause gum recession, and an increased risk for gum disease, similarly to regular cigarettes.

Also, very concerning, some e-cigarettes have been found to contain dangerous chemicals such as those used in anti-freeze, as well as heavy metals. These metals are toxic and possibly carcinogenic when inhaled.

Your best option is to never smoke or try to quit immediately if you do. If you continue to smoke, we strongly recommend you follow two simple but very important tips.

First, schedule an annual oral cancer screening with your local dentist. These screenings are simple, painless, and can save your life.

Second, practice good oral health. This consists of flossing and brushing your teeth with a plaque fighting dental gel after every meal. Remember, it is far more difficult to correct plaque damage than it is to prevent it.