Smoking & Your Dental Health. How Bad Is It?


Dr Aran Moorthy

This article was written by Australian dental surgeon Dr Aran Moorthy, BDS. Dr Moorthy has a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Adelaide. You can read more about Dr Moorthy here >

Keep smoking, and you’ll have far more to worry about than yellow teeth.

Smoking and Dental Health Problems

We all know smoking is bad, but we (probably) forget just how bad it is. Apart from the obvious odour, bad breath and incessant cough, smoking may lead to cancers of the lips, tongue, throat, voicebox and oesophagus. It negatively affects your heart, lungs, stomach, skin, bones, reproductive system, mouth and throat. And, smoking causes death, and no one has found a cure for that. As experts say, if you could see the damage smoking was doing, you would stop.

So bad, in so many ways…

Smoking is also incredibly bad for your oral health, which means the state of your mouth, gums and teeth. Smoking cigarettes can also lead to badly stained teeth, gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer. There are so many bad things that can happen to your oral health when you smoke. Here are just a few – from the icky, foul and disgusting to the downright deadly.

Tooth decay

Smokers have an increased risk of developing tooth decay because, over time, your saliva becomes more acidic, increasing the chance of tooth decay and dental erosion. It is also associated with lower amounts of salivary cystatin, an important contributor to good oral health.

Gums and teeth

When you smoke cigarettes, you have a 2.5 to 3.5 times higher risk of developing gum disease. This is because you’re more likely to produce higher amounts of bacteria that cause gum disease and this bacteria has a higher success rate of causing damage to the gums. If you smoke, you will have a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, which makes it far difficult for your gums to heal. Consequently, smokers find that the periodontal disease develops more rapidly than non-smokers.

Teeth staining

Smokers develop yellow teeth, and within a few years they have brown, stained and sometimes mottled teeth. In many cases, it’s not just their teeth that will stain. Their lips and fingers will also be permanently stained.


You can develop more than one type of cancer from smoking. Choose from lung, throat, mouth, lip, larynx and oesophageal cancer. Or, more accurately, let one of them choose you. It’s not always treatable, either. Each year, thousands of people die from mouth cancer due to their smoking habit.

Hairy tongue

With a name as about as gross as it can get, hairy tongue is surely enough reason for people to quit smoking. Hairy tongue is a condition where there is an overgrowth of little ‘hairs’ (papillae) on the tongue. Depending on the source of the stain, they can be in several different colours, but with smokers, the colour is generally brown or black. And the icing on the cake? It can also contribute to bad breath. Think of it as a value-packed deal: two for the price of one.

Smoker’s melanosis

Still reading? Well done. Looks like you have a stronger stomach than most.

Smoker’s melanosis is a condition suffered by pipe and cigarette smokers where tiny brown lumps appear inside the mouth. Not everyone gets the condition, though – only around 5% to 21.5% of smokers are affected. It’s thought to be due to the stimulation of melanin production or possibly, the melanin binding to the compounds in tobacco smoke. And, the more you smoke, the more pigmentation is produced.

Dental implant failure

Dental implant abutment and crownDental implants are rapidly gaining in popularity and can be a lifesaver for individuals missing teeth. If you’re a smoker, though, the chances of implant failure are significantly higher. Researchers are still not completely sure why. Initially, they thought it might be due to poorer healing responses amongst smokers, but now it is suggested that it may be due to the exposure of tobacco smoke to the gums surrounding the implant, developing a condition known as peri-implantitis.

Poor taste & smell

Keep smoking, and you’ll decrease the ability to taste and smell your food. You’ll also smell of nicotine and have foul-smelling breath. Smoking is one of those ‘gifts’ that keep on giving – in numerous surprising and unpleasant ways.

Smoking & regular dental appointments

Smoking increases the chance of cavities and gum disease; if you continue to smoke, we suggest you keep in touch with a dentist and have regular checkups and hygiene appointments. As smokers’ teeth are more stained than others’, regular ‘scale and cleans’ can help remove some of the stainings. Most importantly, your dentist can check for signs of more serious nasties developing on your inner cheeks, tongue and throat.

If you are suffering from bad breath, mouthwashes may help to disguise a problem, but they won’t cure it. Only cessation of smoking will help with that.


Like to quit smoking?

We understand that a lot of you that smoke don’t do it for fun. You’d love to not smoke cigarettes. And we’re sure you’ve got better things to do with your money than buy something that is so deleterious to your health. But as smoking is highly addictive, cessation isn’t always easy. Most people can’t do it alone, so if you’d like to quit smoking, speak to your local doctor or head on over to Quitline. Or call: 13 78 48

This blog page has been fact-checked by Dentist Dr Aran Moorthy.


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