What Tobacco Does to Your Oral Health

Your oral health depends on more than just brushing and flossing. In fact, there are certain activities that you should avoid altogether in order to improve or maintain your oral health. Tobacco use is one of these activities. The most common form of tobacco use, smoking cigarettes, is associated with a variety of cancers and breathing problems. Other forms of tobacco, such as smokeless tobacco, cigars, electronic cigarettes (vapes), hookah, and compressed dissolvable tobacco, are also detrimental to both your oral and overall health. 

While some people argue that some forms of tobacco are less damaging than others, the fact still remains that all forms of tobacco are detrimental. When it comes to your oral health, tobacco use can increase your risk of oral health issues and impair your ability to heal from these issues. Here is what tobacco use does to your oral health: 

Stains Your Teeth

man smoking with stained teeth

Compared to all the other effects of frequent tobacco use, this is one of the more mild effects. Still, tobacco use negatively affects the look of your smile. The reason for this is that the ingredients found in tobacco products have been found to permanently stain your teeth. Nicotine tends to stain the teeth a yellowish color, while tar can make the teeth appear grey or black. Tar can also stain the gums a grey-black color as well. Tobacco use also causes excess plaque and tartar build up on the teeth of tobacco users, which can make the discoloration look more prevalent. 

Wears Your Enamel

Not only does tobacco stain your teeth over time, but it also wears down your enamel at a faster rate than normal. This is because cigars, chewing tobacco, and unprocessed tobacco leaves all contain tiny abrasive particles that mix with your saliva to form an abrasive paste. Over time, this paste destroys your enamel and makes your teeth more susceptible to decay and sensitivity. 

Increases the Risk of Gum Disease

Gum disease is extremely common in the general population, however is more likely to affect people who use tobacco. This is because it is caused by plaque and bacteria accumulating along the gum line and infecting the gum tissue. As mentioned before, tobacco causes excess plaque and tartar to develop, which directly increases the risk of developing gum disease. Not only that, but people who use tobacco are more likely to develop severe gum disease since tobacco restricts blood flow to the gums and slows healing. It is important to note that severe gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. 

Increases the Risk of Oral Cancer

common sites of oral cancer

Tobacco use increases the risk of developing various cancers, but one of the most prevalent cancers associated with tobacco is oral cancer. Oral cancer is used to describe cancer that affects the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palates, sinuses, and/or throat. Research indicates that people who smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes are 6 times more likely to develop oral cancer. Research also indicates that people who use chewing tobacco are 50 times more likely to develop oral cancer, specifically in the cheeks, lip lining, and gums. 

Slows Healing

In addition to damaging your teeth and increasing the risk of other oral health issues, tobacco use also slows down your ability to heal. This is because using tobacco causes restricted blood flow, which limits the body’s ability to deliver healing components to the mouth. As a result, people who use tobacco have longer recovery times after extractions, oral surgery, or periodontal treatments. Slower healing also increases the risk of posttreatment complications. As a final note, certain restorations, such as dental implants, may not heal properly in people who use tobacco. 


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Dr. Sanket Upadhyay


Dr. Sanket completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree in India in 2011 and obtained his Canadian dental license in 2016. He is a member in good standing with the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, the Ontario Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Sanket regularly pursues continuing education through dental conferences and courses to enhance his knowledge and be at the forefront of advances in dentistry.

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