Tobacco, gum disease and oral cancer

Tobacco and Severe Gum Disease

You may not think that smoking can cause a bad visit to the dentist, but tobacco can cause a big problem for your mouth. Studies have shown that tobacco use is a major risk factor for a form of a severe gum disease called periodontal disease. Whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, a pipe, a water pipe, or cannabis, or if you chew tobacco, you’re at higher risk for this disease. 

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is a severe type of gum disease. Gum disease is caused by a sticky material with bacteria called plaque and a hard substance called tartar. Plaque and tartar collect on teeth and cause irritation and infection of the gums.

The mild form of the disease is called gingivitis — this means the gums are red, swollen, and bleed easily. When it gets worse, it turns into periodontal disease, also known as periodontitis. The gums pull away from the teeth and cause little pockets. These pockets collect food and bacteria below the gum line, and become infected. As your body’s immune system fights the infection, the bone in your jaw and other tissues that hold your teeth in place become destroyed. Over time, you can continue to lose more bone and gum tissue — and eventually lose teeth.

How Does Tobacco Hurt? 

Research has shown that tobacco can weaken the body’s ability to heal itself. This can make it hard for gum disease to go away, or make it worse. Not only do smokers have a higher risk of periodontal disease than nonsmokers, but their disease is often worse. And even when periodontal disease is treated, a person who smokes is more likely to get periodontal disease again. 

How to Stop Using Tobacco

Quitting a tobacco habit is hard, which is why there are a lot of ways to get help. Here are some resources to try: 

  • Visit This website has a lot of tools and help for people who want to quit.

  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. This connects you with a National Cancer Institute smoking cessation counselor.

  • Talk with your health care provider. Many people quit using tobacco with the help of medication, or nicotine therapy in the form of gum, lozenges, patches, and more. Talk with your health care provider to see if one of these methods can help.

Take Charge of Your Gums

You can help prevent gum disease by brushing and flossing every day. Floss well between and around each tooth. Make sure to see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. He or she will remove built-up tartar that can make it harder to remove sticky bacteria by brushing and flossing at home.



Effects of smoking on periodontal disease. Underner M, Maes I, et al. Unité de Tabacologie, Service de Pneumologie, Pavillon René Beauchant. Rev Mal Respir. 2009 Dec;26(10):1057-73. Abstract: Accessed 2013.

Gum Disease Risk Factors. American Academy of Periodontology. 2013.

Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. August 2012. 2013.

Tobacco guidelines get update. American Dental Association. May 21, 2008. 2013.

Tobacco and Periodontal Diseases. University of Minnesota Division of Periodontology. Accessed 2013.

Talk to an Expert. National Institutes of Health. Accessed 2013.

Quit Smoking Resources. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. March 26, 2013. Accessed 2013.

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