Smoking alternatives

You know that smoking can lead to poor dental health. But what about the many other forms of tobacco out there? Are smokeless products healthier for your mouth?

Many people assume these products don’t carry the same risks as cigarettes, but there’s no such thing as a safe form of tobacco. Smokeless forms of tobacco have been linked with the same serious problems caused by cigarettes, including:

  • Gum disease that can lead to tooth loss
  • Tissue and bone loss around the roots of the teeth
  • Scratching and wearing down of teeth
  • Stained and discolored teeth
  • Bad breath

What is smokeless tobacco?

These are forms of tobacco that people use without burning them. Smokeless products include:

Chewing tobacco. This form of tobacco comes as loose leaves, braided leaves (a twist) or compressed leaves (a plug), with or without added flavoring. Users typically place a small amount between the cheek and gum. Saliva that builds up is spit out or swallowed.

Snuff. Also called dip, this is finely ground tobacco that comes moist or dry and may have added flavors. It is placed along the gumline behind the lip or between the cheek and gum.

Snus. A form of finely ground, loose, moist snuff originally from Sweden, used much like regular snuff.

Dissolvable tobacco. Powdered tobacco pressed into lozenges, sticks or strips that may look like candy, often with added flavors and sweeteners. (These are different from nicotine lozenges used to help people quit smoking.)

How smokeless tobacco affects your dental health

  • All smokeless tobacco products contain nicotine, which makes them addictive.
  • They also contain dozens of chemicals known to cause oral cancer.
  • Smokeless tobacco reduces the flow of saliva that helps cleanse away cavity-causing bacteria.
  • The flavors and sweeteners added to smokeless products may contain sugar, raising cavity risks.
  • Sand and grit found in smokeless tobacco can wear away the protective coating (enamel) on your teeth, another trigger for tooth decay.
  • Smokeless tobacco products irritate your gums, encouraging the buildup of plaque and tartar. Signs of gingivitis (early gum disease) include painful gums and bleeding.
  • As these issues get worse, your gums can pull away from your teeth and form spaces (deep pockets) where infection can develop. These are signs of severe gum disease (periodontitis). The bone and tissue that hold your teeth in place begin to break down, allowing your teeth to loosen.
  • Loose teeth may fall out or need to be pulled by your dentist or oral surgeon.

Is vaping safer than smokeless tobacco?

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.

What should I do if I’m using smokeless tobacco products now?

The best way to protect your dental health is to quit. It takes time and commitment – but millions of people have done it, and you’ll find there are plenty of resources and support to help you along the way. Here’s how to get started. And as you move toward a tobacco-free lifestyle, here are helpful tips for staying quit.

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.