Smoking and Oral Health

Smoking causes stained teeth, brown ‘hairy’ tongue and incredibly bad breath as well as many other dental problems.

Bad breath: The main reason smokers have bad breath is because of the more than 4,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke, many of which are harmful to the human body.1 These chemicals include tar and nicotine, which build up on mouth surfaces such as teeth, tongue and sides of cheeks. Heavy smoking can cause an overgrowth of the papilla on the tongue surface. This brown, furry growth traps germs and eventually creates a burning sensation on the tongue and exacerbates bad breath.2

Smoking also dries the mouth by inhibiting saliva flow and function. Saliva is important for cleaning the lining of the mouth and teeth and protecting from decay. A lack of saliva can lead to the growth of bacteria, causing bad breath.

Smoking can exacerbate sinus conditions, such as post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down the back of the throat), which also increases the risk of bad breath.

Gingivitis: People smoking 10 or more cigarettes a day have a far higher risk of developing Acute Necrotising Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG or trench mouth), a painful infection of the gums that results in bleeding, heavy ulceration and very bad breath.3

Gum Disease: Smoking can also lead to gum disease (periodontal disease) and increased tartar on the teeth, which harbours plaque. This can cause serious destruction of the tissues around the teeth, which can result in an unpleasant odour and tooth loss as well as pain. Smoking can also delay the healing of any injured tissues in the mouth, such as ulcers, or following oral surgery.4

Exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage your sense of smell and your ability to taste.

Smell: Research suggests that certain chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as acetaldehyde, ammonia and formaldehyde, damage the olfactory receptor cells in the nose. Now we all know that an acute sense of smell enhances the taste of food and allows you to appreciate things like a beautiful flower. Maybe you can live without those, but keep in mind that odour cues can also influence a variety of other human activities including sexual behaviour and mood.6 It is often the ‘smells’ of our partners that turns us on the most.

Taste: Nicotine exposure reduces the size of taste buds by decreasing the number of taste cells.5 You may no longer be able to taste that cigarette in your mouth but you can sure bet that those around you are still smelling it on your breath.

The easiest way for smokers to get over bad breath is to quit smoking. You and everyone around you will breathe easier.

Want to quit smoking? For help, talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist or visit the Leave The Pack Team on our campus.


1 D, Hoffmann I and El-Bayoumy K. 2001. The Less Harmful Cigarette: A Controversial Issue. A tribute to Ernst L. Wynder. Chemical Research in Toxicology 2001, 14(7): 767-790.

2 Christen AG, Klein JA. 1997. Tobacco and Your Oral Health. Quintessence Book, Illinois. 1997.

3 Bergstrom J. Cigarette: smoking as a risk factor in chronic periodontal disease. Commun Dent Oral Epidemiol 1989; 17: 245-7.

4 Council on Science and Health. 2003. Cigarettes: What the warning label doesn’t tell you. Second edition. New York, American Council on Science and Health, 2003. (accessed 12/09/08)

5 Tomassini S, Cuoghi V, Catalani E, Casini G and Bigiani A. 2007. Long-Term Effects of Nicotine on Rat Fungiform Taste Buds. Neuroscience 2007, 147: 803-810

6 Frye RE, Schwartz BS and Doty RL. 1990. Dose-related effects of cigarette smoking on olfactory function. The Journal of the American Medical Association 1990, 263(9): 1233-1236