Does smoking cause gum disease?

Smoking has been linked to gum disease -- a leading cause of tooth loss. Watch as Dr. Maria Lopez Howell explains what a healthy lifestyle can mean for your mouth.


Todd A. Welch, DMD
Tobacco use is harmful to oral health. 

In conjunction with the Great American Smokeout, the American Academy of Periodontology hopes to help educate the public about one specific threat to smokers -- periodontal disease. Recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. In addition, following periodontal treatment or any type of oral surgery, the chemicals in tobacco can slow down the healing process and make the treatment results less predictable.

How does smoking increase your risk for periodontal disease? As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have the following problems:
  • Calculus -- plaque that hardens on your teeth and can only be removed during a professional cleaning
  • Deep pockets between your teeth and gums
  • Loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth
If the calculus is not removed during a professional cleaning, and it remains below your gum line, the bacteria in the calculus can destroy your gum tissue and cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. When this happens, periodontal pockets form and fill with disease-causing bacteria.

If left untreated, periodontal disease will progress. The pockets between your teeth and gums can grow deeper, allowing in more bacteria that destroy tissue and supporting bone. As a result, the gums may shrink away from the teeth making them look longer. Without treatment, your teeth may become loose, painful and even fall out.

Smoking causes your blood vessels in your mouth to constrict and reduce blood flow to your teeth and gums. With a lack of adequate blood flow to the structures in your mouth there is reduced healing and faster breakdown of the supporting structures. Naturally protective gingival fluid also gets reduced. Combine all this with plaque and calculus buildup which all leads to gum disease. Even with proper treatment, if smoking is not stopped it can be very difficult to stop the progression of the gum disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.