How does tobacco affect my oral health?


All types of tobacco – including cigarettes, cigars and chewing (or smokeless) tobacco – are harmful for your oral and overall health. In addition to containing nicotine, which is highly addictive, tobacco can increase your risk of:

  • oral cancer
  • periodontal (gum) disease—a leading cause of tooth loss and sensitivity
  • delayed healing after a tooth extraction or other oral surgery
  • fewer options for some kinds of dental care (smokers can be poor candidates for particular treatments such as implants)
  • bad breath
  • stained teeth and tongue
  • diminished sense of taste and smell

How can tobacco cause periodontal (gum) disease?

Smoking may be responsible for almost 75 percent of periodontal diseases among adults. Tobacco products damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. An example of the effect is receding gums. A receding gum line exposes the tooth roots and increases your risk of developing a sensitivity to hot and cold, or tooth decay in these unprotected areas.

What effects can smokeless tobacco have on my oral health?

Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in smokeless tobacco products.

Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas. Users also may be at risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder, because they swallow some of the toxins in the juice created by using smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing periodontal (gum) disease. Sugar is often added to enhance the flavour of smokeless tobacco, increasing the risk for tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco also typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down your teeth.

Are cigars a safe alternative to cigarettes?

Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes. Even if you do not inhale cigar smoke, you are still at risk for oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers. Like cigarette smokers, cigar smokers are at increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease, a leading cause of tooth loss. In addition to the health risks, cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, can cause staining of the teeth and tongue as well as bad breath.

All other forms of tobacco, including pipes and rolled tobacco, are just as harmful to your health.

What are some of the signs of oral cancer?

Signs and symptoms that could indicate oral cancer include:

  • any sign of irritation, like tenderness, burning or a sore that will not heal
  • pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips
  • development of a lump, or a leathery, wrinkled or bumpy patch inside your mouth; colour changes to your oral soft tissues (gray, red or white spots or patches), rather than a healthy pink colour
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue
  • any change in the way your teeth fit together.

See your dentist if you notice any of these changes. For more information on oral cancer, click here.

Tips on quitting

Four in 10 smokers make an attempt to quit during the course of a year, but the withdrawal symptoms of nicotine are so severe, most smokers fail on their first attempt – less than two percent manage to remain smoke-free a year after quitting.

Deciding to stop smoking is the best decision you can make for your health, but it is also one of the hardest feats to accomplish.


  • Set a date in the near future. This will allow you time to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. Choose a time when stress will be lower.
  • Tell your family, friends and co-workers that you are quitting. Building a support system will improve your chances of quitting.
  • Investigate and use all resources available to you, such as books, websites and brochures. (Go to the bottom of this page for helpful links.)
  • Tell your dentist or physician you are quitting. Not only can they provide guidance and support, they can recommend and prescribe tobacco cessation medication.
  • Avoid environments or situations that could tempt you, or put you in contact with people who smoke.
  • Anticipate triggers to tobacco use and be prepared to avoid them. Chew sugarless gum, go for a walk or pick up a hobby to distract you.
  • Reward yourself for reaching small goals. For example, treat yourself to a nice meal with family or friends to celebrate one week of being smoke-free.
  • Put the money you would normally spend on tobacco in a jar. At the end of the year, take that money and spend it on a vacation or a new wardrobe!



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