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Help and advice on quitting smoking

Risks to your mouth, gums and teeth

Smoking is very harmful to oral health, in particular to your mucous membranes, gums and teeth. Many problems can be avoided through regular, thorough inspections of the inside of the mouth, and regular checks by your dentist or hygienist.


Couverture d'une brochure créée par le CIPRET-Vaud (Centre d’information pour la prévention du tabagisme) en collaboration avec Swiss Dental Hygienists.

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Personal story of Jess, age 23, September 2010

I started smoking when I was 15, because it seemed cool. I’m 23 and I smoke every day. The health problems associated with cigarettes have always gone straight over my head. Lung cancer? No, never really thought about it…what I also had no idea about was that smoking causes other illnesses, less well known than cancer, and not necessarily fatal. It all started with a slight pain in my teeth. I took a pain killer and carried on with my day as if it was nothing… In the evening, feeling even worse, I touched the area and when I took my finger out of my mouth it was covered in blood. The next day, I woke up with a mouth full of blood…I washed it out with antiseptic mouthwash and got on with my day. Two wobbly teeth later, I arrived at the dentist’s crying with pain. He diagnosed me with necrotizing ulceration gingivitis. My gums were dying, yes, rotting away. The pain was intense, and you get a really metallic taste in your mouth, your breath is rotten, your teeth get wobbly, and in the end, they fall out… Lucky me! As a young smoker, I know that when people talk about cancer, heart problems and so on, it seems so hard to imagine, so theoretical, but you know that it could happen. But I would like to tell other young people who smoke like me and who have never worried about their health that there are less serious illnesses, like mine, that can also ruin your life. At 23 years old, I might have lost my teeth because of smoking. What else might I be putting at risk when I’m 30 or 40? No, thanks. I’m 23, I have all my teeth, and I’m hanging on to them! I’m quitting cigarettes!

Me and my mouth

Oral health is closely linked to our quality of life, to our wellbeing. If your mouth is in an unhealthy state it can directly affect your wellbeing and also be a source of irritation for those around you.

Have you noticed any of the following symptoms?

  • Bad breath, also known as halitosisliens_externe_bleu-sur-blanc
  • Teeth which are yellow and stained because of cigarettes
  • Problems tasting and smelling
  • Dry mouth and a lack of saliva
  • Loss of elasticity in the mucous membranes – the soft tissues become fibrous pdf liens_externe_bleu-sur-blanc
  • Wobbly teeth, or inflammation of the gums
  • Dental calvities

If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms, we advise you to consult your dentist.

Oral risks and illnesses

Smoking affects the physiology of the oral cavity and causes important changes to the oral ecosystem. One of the most serious problems that can occur is oral cancer.

Oral cancer is closely linked to smoking cigarettes and pipes and chewing tobacco. In Switzerland there are some 1000 new cases of mouth or pharynx cancer every year. Of these, about 400 people die in the five years following the diagnosis – often because the tumors on the tongue, palate and jawbone are diagnosed too late.

Find out more

"Tobacco or oral health" : the consequences of smoking on oral health (pdf document)
"Oral cancer brochure": map of the regions affected by oral cancer worldwide (pdf document)

Gum diseases

  • Gingivitis is the local inflammation of the gums caused by dental plaque (biofilm). If caught in time, it is a completely reversible condition provided that impeccable dental hygiene is observed. In smokers, it can evolve into an acute, painful form known as necrotizing ulceration gingivitis.
  • Periodontitis is the name given to a more advanced stage of inflammation. It is characterized by the destruction of the tissues around one or more teeth. The tissues gradually become detached from the tooth and the space between with tooth and the gum widens, causing the teeth to become wobbly and to seem longer. Periodontitis is often linked to the presence of tartar and dental plaque above the gum line. It has been proven that the risk of developing periodontitis is four times greater for smokers. Periodontitis has three distinct phases: early (or slight), moderate and advanced, illustrated by the photos below:

Dental cavities are linked to the presence of cariogenic bacteria which produce acids from carbohydrates contained in food. In principle, the acids are neutralized by saliva. A reduction in the flow of saliva or its power of neutralization as well as an increase in bacteria results in a higher chance of incurring dental cavities.

Dental Hygiene Guide

It is very important to inspect the inside of your mouth yourself on a regular basis. It is just as essential to receive regular check-ups from your dentist or hygienist (at least once a year, but once every six months is better). Remember, the sooner a problem is detected the greater the chances of treating it successfully. Here are the two main principles to bear in mind for good dental hygiene:

  • Brush your teeth 3 times a day (morning, afternoon and evening) after every meal. If this is not possible, at least brush them in the morning and in the evening.
  • Make sure you also clean in between the teeth. Depending on the situation, you may use dental floss, interdental brushes or toothpicks (only use these once a day) in order to remove any food residues that may be stuck between the teeth.

And another thing…

Cigarettes not only increase the amount you must spend on dental care, they can also impede treatment. After a tooth is removed, for example, the wound heals noticeably slower for smokers. If dental implants are put in, complications, especially in the upper jaw bone, are more common. The surrounding tissues may become inflamed or the implant may even fall out. The failure rate of dental implants is significantly higher for smokers than non-smokers. On the other hand, smoking cessation improves the chances of success.