Smoking and oral health

Around one in five adults smoke in New Zealand. On average, a smoker who smokes a pack a day spends over $4000 a year on cigarettes.

As well as contributing to general health problems, smoking can cause oral diseases such as oral cancers and gum disease.

Oral cancer

Smoking is a major cause of cancer in the mouth. This includes cancers of the lip, tongue, cheeks and other sites in the mouth.

The longer you smoke, the greater the risk of developing oral cancer. If you drink a lot of alcohol as well, the risk is even higher.

Detecting oral cancer

Usually the first sign of oral cancer is a sore or lump in the mouth that doesn’t heal. The early stages aren’t painful, so by the time symptoms are noticeable, the cancer may be more advanced.

Regular dental check-ups are important to detect early signs of oral cancer.

Gum disease

Smoking is also a major risk factor for gum disease. Smoking means:

  • you’ll get more dental plaque
  • gum diseases will progress more quickly
  • there’s less supply of oxygen to your gums, which makes it harder for them to heal from infection.

If gum disease isn’t treated, it will get worse. The gum tissue and bone surrounding the teeth can be destroyed, resulting in tooth loss. 

Research shows smokers lose more teeth than non-smokers.

Other oral health problems

Smoking also causes other oral health problems such as:

  • loss of taste
  • stained teeth
  • mouth sores
  • bad breath.

Smoking can also affect healing after dental treatment and can cause problems after tooth extractions.

Want to quit smoking?

Go to Quitting smoking to find help and advice.

Reproduced with the permission of the New Zealand Dental Association, based on the ‘Keeping Your Teeth for a Lifetime ... Easy As’ resource.

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