Smoking and Gum Disease

As you probably already know, tobacco use is linked with many serious illnesses such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease, as well as numerous other health problems. What you may not know is that tobacco users also are at increased risk for periodontal disease. In fact, recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of 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.

Save Your Smile

Research shows that smokers loose more teeth than nonsmokers do. In fact, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 20 percent of people over age 65 who have never smoked are toothless, while a whopping 41.3 percent of daily smokers over age 65 are toothless.

In addition, research shows that current smokers don't heal as well after periodontal treatment as former smokers or nonsmokers. But these effects are reversible if the smokers kick the habit before beginning treatment.

Not Just Cigarettes

Other tobacco products are also harmful to your periodontal health. Smokeless tobacco also can cause gums to recede and increase the chance of losing the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place.

And, a study of cigar and pipe smokers published in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association revealed that cigar smokers experience tooth loss and alveolar bone loss at rates equivalent to those of cigarette smokers. Pipe smokers experience tooth loss at a rate similar to cigarette smokers.


To learn more about tobacco use and oral health, click on any of the links below to view articles published by the American Academy of Periodontology.

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