You know smoking is hard on your health, so it’s probably no surprise that tobacco use can have serious effects on your teeth, gums and mouth too.

Whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or hookah (water pipe), here’s what you should know about smoking and your dental health.

An image of a cigarette burning

What happens inside a smoker’s mouth?

Healthy teeth help us speak clearly and chew our food thoroughly – an essential step in good digestion. And of course, an attractive smile is a great source of confidence. Still, you may not realize how smoking changes the way your teeth look and function and even the way you enjoy food. For example, did you know that:

  • Tobacco stains your teeth and tongue, often turning tooth enamel yellow or brown.
  • Smoking dulls your sense of smell and taste, making your favorite dishes and drinks less pleasurable.
  • Cosmetic dental procedures (such as tooth whitening) may not work as effectively or last as long if you smoke.
  • Smoking causes chronic bad breath, which can also put a serious dent in your confidence.

How more serious dental issues develop for smokers

It’s no secret that smoking is highly addictive. The nicotine found in all tobacco products is what makes it so hard to quit. Many smokers say nicotine gives them energy while also offering a calming effect – so it’s not surprising they don’t want to quit. But learning more about what tobacco does to your mouth may help motivate you to make a change.

  • When you smoke, the flow of saliva in your mouth is reduced. This changes the natural process inside your mouth that helps cleanse away cavity-causing bacteria.
  • The chemicals found in tobacco smoke irritate your gums and the lining of your mouth.
  • Gradually, gingivitis (early gum disease) can start to develop. Red flags include tender, painful gums and bleeding.
  • As these issues continue, your gums can pull away from your teeth and form spaces (deep pockets) where infection can develop.
  • The bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place may begin to break down, allowing your teeth to loosen. They may fall out or need to be pulled by your dentist or oral surgeon.
  • Missing teeth can threaten the health of your remaining teeth. In fact, smokers are three times more likely to lose ALL their teeth than non-smokers.

Beyond the mouth: how dental problems affect your total health

If you need extra motivation to consider quitting, it can be helpful to think about what tobacco-related dental problems can do to your overall health.

  • Smoking can cause life-threatening cancers of the mouth, throat, tongue or jaw. Quitting now will reduce your risks for 12 different forms of cancer.
  • Untreated gum disease – often caused by smoking – has been linked with stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia.

Warnings about the dangers of hookah smoking

Many people who use water pipes, or hookahs, assume that this form of smoking is safer than others. But research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JADA) shows that hookah smoking is linked with gum disease, dry socket, cancers of the head, neck and mouth and other serious conditions.

According to the World Health Organization, smoking a hookah is the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes, based on the duration and number of puffs in a smoking session.

Is vaping safer for my dental health?

Around 8% of people in the U.S. use e-cigarettes, one major poll shows. However, the American Dental Association (ADA) is concerned that treating some devices that deliver nicotine (including e-cigarettes) as safer than other products (such as cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) is not a viable strategy for preventing deaths and disease caused by tobacco use. Learn more about vaping and ADA policies related to products containing nicotine here.

Quitting now will help you lead a healthier life

The best way to safeguard your long-term dental (and overall) health is to stop smoking. It takes time and commitment – but millions of people have done it, and you’ll find there are plenty of free resources and support out there to help you succeed. Here are 5 proven steps to follow.

Step 1: Have a plan

Once you’ve set a quit date, develop a plan. Start with the helpful resources at or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Consider downloading an app to track your progress.

Step 2: Don’t go it alone

Tell family and friends you’ve decided to put down cigarettes for good. Plan to spend time with people who want you to succeed. Ex-smokers might be some of your best allies, since they’ve been there!

Step 3: Stay busy

Replace smoking with a healthy habit like walking, working out, knitting, or word games – anything that uses your energy in a positive way. Make plans for dinner or a movie with non-smoking friends. Chew sugarless gum—it keeps your mouth busy and helps prevent cavities, too.

Step 4: Avoid triggers

Stay away from people, places and things that tempt you to smoke. Common triggers include stress, alcohol, coffee, and hanging out with others who smoke. Throw out cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays so they won’t keep prompting you to light up.

Step 5: Reward your progress

Every hour or day you go without a cigarette is an achievement. Take it a little at a time. With all the money you save on cigarettes, you can treat yourself to a stress-relieving massage, a sporting event or even a weekend away.

Be sure to ask your dentist for suggestions and support, too. Your dentist cares about your overall health and is there to offer guidance and motivation to help you succeed.