What are the effects of tobacco products on the mouth?

Mouth cancerDip contains up to 30 cancer-causing chemicals. Photo courtesy of The Real Cost

We know tobacco contains chemicals that can have harmful effects throughout the body, including increased risk for different types of cancers. Tobacco also contains nicotine, which is highly addictive, and can keep you hooked.  (Read about the many effects of tobacco and nicotine.)

A person who smokes tobacco cigarettes or uses chew or snuff (smokeless tobacco) is at increased risk for oral health problems. Here are some effects tobacco cigarettes and chew and snuff can have on the mouth:

Tobacco Cigarettes

  • gum disease
  • slow healing after injury, tooth extraction, or other oral surgery
  • oral cancer9
  • stained teeth

Smokeless Tobacco (Chew or Snuff)

  • wearing down of teeth
  • gums pulling away from teeth
  • tooth decay
  • white patches that may turn into cancer
  • oral cancer

E-Cigarettes and Vaping

Vaping devices containing nicotine or THC (the psychotropic ingredient in marijuana) are becoming increasingly popular. Sometimes called “e-cigarettes,” these devices contain a liquid that is vaporized by a metal heating element. A growing body of research suggests these devices are not completely safe, and health officials are looking into whether vaping contributed to serious lung illnesses and seizures found in people who vaped nicotine, THC, or other “home brews.”  There is not much known about the oral health effects of these e-cigarettes or other vaping devices. Vaping liquids often contain solvents and flavorings, whose safety profiles when vaporized and inhaled are unknown. One study suggests some sweet flavorings in e-cigarettes may increase the risk of tooth decay. Other research suggests that the heated metal in these devices delivers potentially toxic chemicals like cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel to the mouth and lungs. More research is underway.

We do know that teens who either vape nicotine products or smoke regular cigarettes are exposing their brains to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. We also know that teens who try e-cigarettes often start using regular tobacco cigarettes within a year, which carries the risk of a lifetime of smoking and the many diseases that result from it.  

What about quitting?

Teens and young adults who smoke or vape but want to quit have good options for help. If you or someone you know needs more information or is ready to quit, read more about quitting the use of tobacco and nicotine. If you have a friend who smokes, it puts you at higher risk for starting.10  You might decide to step away from the friendship for a while to protect your own health. Even secondhand smoke is bad for your health.

9 American Dental Association, Mouth Healthy. "Smoking and Tobacco." Available at https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/smoking-and-tobacco.

10 Mamudu HM, Want L, Owusu D., Robertson C, Collins C, Littleton MA. Prospective study of dual use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products among school-going youth in rural Appalachian Tennessee. Ann Thorac Med. 2019 Apr-Jun;14(2):127-133.