Smoking, Gum Disease & Your Oral Health

Dr Aran Moorthy

Dr Aran Moorthy

This article was written by Australian dental surgeon Dr Aran Moorthy, BDS. Dr Moorthy has a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Adelaide. You can read more about Dr Moorthy here >

  • If you smoke, it’s vital you have regular oral cancer screenings at your dentist.
  • Try to stop smoking. If you quit, you will reduce your chances of gum disease and oral cancer and improve your response to gum disease treatment. You will also improve your overall health.
  • Smoking dries the mouth, increasing the risk of cavities and gum disease by 2 to 5 times, depending on how heavily you smoke.
  • Smoking impairs your immune response, lowers the resistance to infections and cancers and slows healing time. Dental implant placement has a higher risk of failure.
  • Gum disease has two stages: gingivitis, which is treatable and periodontitis which is not treatable and can cause a lifetime of problems.

Almost all smokers know that smoking is bad for your health. But smoking tobacco is also highly addictive, and most smokers would like to quit. Every year in Australia, almost half of smokers try to quit permanently, but only 6% succeed. Those who fail are sadly left damaging their overall health – and their teeth and gums. Here’s how.

Smoking is terrible for our teeth in many obvious ways – it stains our teeth, causes bad breath, increases the risk of oral pre-cancer and cancer, creates smokers melanosis (seen as brown spots inside the mouth) gives a coated tongue – a nasty layer that sits on the tongue consisting of mainly food particles, bacteria and debris from the mouth) and increases the risk of oral thrush. Further, you’re more likely to develop tooth decay and gum disease. And if you would like dental implants, you risk a higher risk of the implants failing to integrate to the bone.

So why all these nasties? What is it about smoking that causes such a mouthful of disasters? There are many reasons. For example, smoking tobacco:

  • fills your lungs with irritants and toxic and cancer-causing compounds
  • causes dry mouth – which increases the risk of developing cavities and gum infections – as your bacteria-clearing saliva cannot do its job
  • dampens the immune response
  • causes a pH change which is more conducive to developing infections
  • decreases your ability to fight both fungal and viral infections
  • decreases the circulation in your mouth, slowing the healing time

Understanding gum disease

Gum disease is an infection that destroys the bone that surrounds and supports your teeth. Bacteria and food debris combine to form dental plaque which can trigger gum disease.

If plaque is left on your teeth, it hardens to form tartar. Tartar irritates the gum around the teeth, causing pockets to form. Bacteria breeds in these pockets and the situation worsens. Left untreated, teeth can loosen and eventually fall out.

Gum disease is a serious and prevalent health problem in Australia today, with 22.9% of the Australian population suffering moderate or severe gum disease. And it’s mostly preventable. Further, smokers are affected more. According to Better Health Channel, those who smoke up to 10 cigarettes a day are twice as likely to develop gum disease. Individuals who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day are affected up to four or five times more.

Smoking tobacco weakens your immune system. We all have bacteria in our mouth, but our saliva and immune response help manage this bacteria. A dry mouth means saliva can’t do its job of washing your teeth and gums clean. Additionally, smoking reduces circulation to the mouth. Therefore, if a smoker has gum disease, their gums don’t bleed, often leaving gum disease undetected.

If you smoke, you have a higher risk of developing a painful gum condition called acute necrotising ulcerated gingivitis. This condition also leaves a terrible taste in your mouth and smells horrible.

Symptoms of gum disease

Gum disease has two main stages. The first is gingivitis, which is reversible. The second stage of gum disease (if gingivitis is not treated) is called periodontitis. Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • red, bleeding, swollen gums
  • a bad taste in the mouth
  • bad breath
  • pus in between teeth and gums
  • loosening teeth
  • spaces appearing in between the teeth
  • teeth falling out

For the sake of your oral health, try to quit smoking.

We understand that smoking is highly addictive, and consequently, many people can’t do it alone.

If you’d like to quit, speak to your local doctor or call Quitline on 13 78 48.

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