How Smoking Affects Dental Health


The dangers of smoking are pretty well-known these days, thanks in large part to popular anti-smoking ad campaigns and the warnings on every pack of cigarettes sold. From emphysema and lung cancer to cardiopulmonary problems and chronic coughing, regular tobacco use has a laundry list of risks that most of us are aware of. However, there is another side effect of smoking that does not get quite as much attention as the others. If you are a smoker, it can take a serious toll on your dental health by constricting the blood flow to your mouth and making it a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that can lead to cavities and gum disease.   Not only that, but smoking can also cause bad breath, increase healing time, discolor the teeth, and increase the risk of oral cancers.


Scott Edwards DDS understand how hard it can be to give up a smoking habit. We see patients every day who struggle with it! Because so many people do not understand all the ways smoking can negatively impact dental health, we have put together this guide on why tobacco is so bad for the teeth and gums, as well as a few tips on how you can deal with the oral side effects of smoking.

How does smoking damage the teeth?

When you smoke, you are short-circuiting your body’s auto-immune defenses and it will have a harder time protecting itself. Even something as relatively insignificant as a bit of tartar buildup can become a major issue if your body is having trouble warding off a potential infection. The blood circulation in your mouth decreases sharply, and limits your mouth’s ability to fight back, giving plaque and bacteria the chance to flourish. This can lead to a host of other problems, including a loss of enamel, the protective coating on your teeth. Even worse, the grit in tobacco can also rub against the teeth and lead to further erosion of the enamel. Teeth are weakened and become more susceptible to damage.  


When you grip a cigarette in your mouth, your teeth come into direct contact with dangerous toxins. It is no wonder they are so affected by tobacco! Smoking can cause teeth to take on a yellow or brown tint, bleeding gums, a buildup of hardened plaque, tooth decay, and dry mouth, among other things. These can all increase the risk of tooth loss and a greater need for more intensive dental treatment.

How does smoking damage the gums?

The nicotine in cigarettes causes a reduction in the amount of oxygen delivered to the soft tissue in the mouth. It also constricts the blood vessels, which can impact the length of time it takes to diagnose gum disease. One of the first signs of gingivitis is minor bleeding. Some  smokers will develop an infection of the gums that does not bleed, due to the aforementioned constriction. This means a diagnosis of gum disease can be delayed, and may worsen in the meantime, a serious problem when you consider that smokers are over 64% percent more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. In fact, more than 40% of all periodontal disease in the United States can be attributed at least in part to smoking. If you are a regular smoker, you may notice certain problems developing with your gums, including:

  • tenderness and redness

  • a small amount of bleeding when brushing your teeth or flossing

  • loosening of teeth

  • pus pockets in between the teeth

  • pain when chewing

  • noticeably bad breath

  • looser fit for dentures

  • receding gum line


These are all signs of periodontal disease, and should be addressed with an experienced dentist like Dr. Edwards as soon as possible.


Gum disease prevention for smokers

Although giving up smoking completely is the best way to fight gum disease, having an excellent oral hygiene routine is also helpful. Brushing after every meal and before bed using a toothpaste with fluoride is a good start, and flossing nightly will help to remove any pesky food particles and bacteria. Scheduling regular dental visits with a practice like Scott Edwards Cosmetic And Family Dentistry is an equally important part of keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Not only will you receive a thorough professional cleaning at your appointments, but Dr. Edwards is an experienced dentist who will be able to recognize any early signs of gum disease and will work with you to combat it with a number of possible solutions, from simple to complex. This includes:

  • antimicrobial mouthwash

  • oral antibiotics

  • doxycycline gel

  • bone surgery

  • grafting soft tissue

  • flap surgery to remove tartar from pockets beneath the gums

  • deep cleaning


Many people have tried and failed to quit smoking. We know it is a difficult habit to end, but some smokers are embarrassed to visit the dentist. They worry about being judged for smoking or do not want to deal with lectures on what they should be doing differently. Studies have shown non-smokers are much more likely to schedule regular dental appointments than smokers, but we want to change that! Dr. Edwards will not judge you or make you feel guilty for smoking, and neither will anyone else on our team. We just want to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your mouth healthy, and do everything we can to help!

Special dental care tips for smokers

If you have not quit smoking yet, or do not have any plans to, there are some things you can do from home to address any associated dental problems. This includes things like:

  • Using mouthwash every day. Pick a strong formula and swish for at least sixty seconds to zap as many bad bacteria as possible.

  • Flossing every day, even if you are tired and ready to fall into bed. Flossing is vital for smokers, because it helps avoid the buildup of calculus, or hardened plaque on teeth.

  • Schedule regular appointments with a dentist like Dr. Edwards. Make sure they know you are a smoker, so you can be watched closely for signs of gum disease and oral cancer. The more quickly we can detect a problem, the greater the chance of correcting or arresting it before it becomes more serious.


Smokers are welcome at Scott Edwards Cosmetic And Family Dentistry

If you are concerned about how smoking could be affecting your dental health, we are happy to offer you information on smoking cessation programs, or sharing with you what has worked for other patients we treat. Giving up smoking can be one of the hardest things you ever do, and it takes time to kick such a serious habit! Not only will we work with you to help you quit, we are also able to help restore your dental health through the services we offer. In addition to general dentistry, we are also able to give you a smile you are more comfortable using cosmetic dentistry procedures like veneers and Zoom! Whitening.


If you are a smoker in the Memphis area and are ready to kick your habit, or want to learn to take better care of your dental health, Scott Edwards Cosmetic And Family Dentistry is here to help you in any way we can. Give us a call today to learn more about how our Dr. Edwards and our skilled staff can help keep your teeth and gums healthy and your smile shining bright!

Posted by Scott Edwards at 2:36 PM

East Location

6250 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38119
Office Phone: 901.681.0011
Fax: 901.681.9725

East Location


Midtown Location

266 S. Cleveland, Suite 103
Memphis, TN 38104
Office Phone: 901.728.6515
Fax: 901.728.4005

Midtown Location