Does Smoking Cause Gum Disease?

Gum disease is a serious infection of the gums that can lead to gum recession and tooth loss. While gum disease can affect anyone, smokers have a greater probability of developing gum disease, and their gum disease is more likely to be severe and harder to treat. Smoking masks the signs and symptoms of gingivitis allowing the disease to progress unnoticed to the more serious periodontitis right under the smoker’s nose.

Find out below how and why smoking makes gum disease more probable and harder to treat.

Smoking Makes Gum Disease More Likely To Develop – The Stats

Smokers are significantly more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. The exact increase in risk can vary based on various factors, including the number of cigarettes smoked daily, the duration of smoking, individual genetics, and oral hygiene practices. However, according to multiple studies:

  • Smokers have a 2 to 7 times higher risk of developing periodontitis compared to non-smokers.
  • The severity of gum disease in smokers tends to be higher
  • Gum disease in smokers responds less favorably to treatment
  • People who have quit smoking show improved gum health compared to those who continue to smoke, indicating that stopping smoking plays a crucial role in the healing and recovery of the gums.

It’s worth noting that the risk doesn’t only increase with cigarettes. Other forms of tobacco use, such as cigars, pipe smoking, and smokeless tobacco, can also increase the risk of gum disease. Vaping also increases the risk.

Why Does Smoking Increase The Risk Of Gum Disease?

Smoking increases the risk of gum disease developing and makes it harder to treat for several reasons. Smoking has the following effects.

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Smoking Reduces Blood Flow To The Gums

Smoking narrows the blood vessels, which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the gums. This makes the gums more susceptible to infection and less able to heal.

Smoking Impairs Immune Response

Smoking weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections, including gum infections.

Smoking Increases Plaque and Tartar Buildup

Smokers tend to have more plaque and tartar on their teeth than non-smokers. Tartar is hardened plaque that can irritate the gums and lead to gum disease. This is because tartar provides a hard surface for plaque to adhere to. 

Smoking Reduces Saliva Production

Saliva plays a vital role in cleaning the mouth and neutralizing harmful acids. Smoking reduces saliva production, which can lead to the buildup of plaque and bacteria in the mouth.

Smoking Increases Inflammation

Nicotine in tobacco irritates the gums and causes inflammation. Inflammation can lead to gum disease and tooth loss.

Smoking Alters the Oral Microbiome

The oral microbiome is the community of bacteria that live in the mouth. Smoking can alter the balance of bacteria in the mouth, making some harmful ones more dominant. These harmful bacteria can contribute to gum disease.

Smoking Delays Healing

Smoking can delay healing after dental procedures, such as tooth extractions or gum treatments, increasing the risk of complications.

Smoking Masks The Symptoms of Gum Disease

Smoking can make it difficult to detect the signs and symptoms of gum disease. This is because smoking can reduce gum bleeding and inflammation, and mask the redness and swelling of the gums.

Smoking Damages Cells

Smoking exposes your gums to many different toxic components. For example, cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic to human cells. These chemicals can directly damage the gum tissues and underlying bone.

Smoking Causes Permanent Damage To Capillaries

All forms of tobacco can cause lasting damage to the small blood vessels in the mouth, and this might not fully heal even if someone stops using tobacco.

Smoking Speeds up the Progression of Gum Disease

In smokers, gum disease can progress faster than in non-smokers. This means that smokers are more likely to experience severe gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss.

How Can Smokers Prevent Gum Disease?

Smokers face an elevated risk of gum disease due to the detrimental effects of tobacco on oral health. However, there are several steps smokers can take to reduce the risk of developing gum disease:

  • Quit Smoking: The most effective way to prevent gum disease and improve overall health is to quit smoking. There are many resources available, from counselling to medications, to help individuals quit.
  • Maintain Good Oral Hygiene: Brush at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste and clean the interdental spaces daily to remove plaque. Win the battle at home with the help of Gum Disease: Solved.
  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and check-ups. This allows for early detection of any potential problems.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: Consume a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, especially antioxidants and vitamin C, which can support gum health. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks,
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water helps to counteract dry mouth, a common issue among smokers, and it also helps to rinse away harmful bacteria.
  • Limit Alcohol: Alcohol can dry out the mouth, and when combined with smoking, it can elevate the risk of gum disease.
  • Be Aware of Symptoms: Familiarize yourself with the early signs of gum disease, such as redness, swelling, bleeding, or persistent bad breath. If you notice any of these, see a dentist promptly.
  • Reduce Other Risk Factors: Other factors, like stress and certain medications, can also increase the risk of gum disease. Being mindful of these and working to mitigate their effects can help.

While these steps can help reduce the risk, the single most impactful action a smoker can take for their oral health (and overall health) is to quit smoking.

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Smoking Effects More Than Just The Gums

Smoking’s impact on oral health extends beyond gum disease, leading to a range of other dental issues, including:

  • Increased complications following dental surgeries or treatments involving teeth and gums.
  • Delayed or impaired healing of oral tissues.
  • A heightened risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Gum recession, where the gums pull away from the teeth.
  • Discoloration and staining of teeth.
  • Greater susceptibility to tooth decay and cavities.

Frequently Asked Questions on ‘Does Smoking Cause Gum Disease?’

Do Gums Heal After Quitting Smoking?

Yes. The good news is that people who quit smoking have the same risk of developing gum disease and responding to gum treatment as non-smokers. Once you quit smoking, don’t be alarmed if your gums bleed more.

How Long Does It Take For Smoking To Damage Gums?

Variables such as your current oral health, diet, how much you smoke, and how often you light up can determine how long it takes for smoking to affect oral health. However, it’s important to know that in as little as one week of smoking, your oral health may become noticeably compromised.

Can Periodontitis Be Caused By Smoking?

Yes, smoking makes the likelihood of periodontitis developing more likely. Periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease which can often develop without the smoker knowing due to the signs and symptoms of gum disease such as inflammation and bleeding being masked. 

Can A Dentist Tell If You Smoke?

Indeed, dentists can often tell if you smoke. One clear sign is the staining of your teeth. Nicotine, when combined with saliva, can leave yellow or brown marks on your teeth. The more you smoke, the more noticeable these stains become.

Can I Smoke After Periodontal Treatment?

It’s highly recommended to avoid smoking after periodontal treatment. Smoking can delay healing, increase the risk of infection, reduce the effectiveness of the treatment, and further damage the gums. For optimal healing and long-term oral health, consider refraining from smoking, especially immediately after treatment. Always consult with your dentist for post-treatment guidelines.

How Long Does It Take For Gums To Heal After Quitting Smoking?

After quitting smoking, gum health generally starts to improve within a few weeks, but complete healing can vary. It might take months to years for gums to fully recover, depending on the severity of prior damage and individual factors. Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene will support the healing process.

Sources for ‘Does Smoking Cause Gum Disease?’

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Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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