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Can a Dentist Tell If You Smoke?

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A female dentist is examining the teeth of a male patient that is lying in the dental chair. The dentist can tell the patient is smoking due to the stain on his teeth.

Even if you give up smoking for a few days before your dental exam, brush and floss religiously, and swish mouthwash after every smoke break, your dentist can tell you’re a smoker.

Try not to let that stress you out. You’re certainly not the first patient they’ve seen who smokes or vapes. Plus, by showing up for your regular dental exam, you’re taking an important step to care for your oral health.

You may have been able to hide your cigarettes from your parents, but your dentist and hygienist will know. They can even help you address the common signs and symptoms of smoking, like dry mouth, cavities, and tooth discolouration

Ways Your Dentist Can Tell You Smoke or Vape

There are many obvious signs that tell your dentist you likely smoke or vape, and some more subtle ones. These can include:

An infographic showing a live cigarette and the anatomy of the mouth highlighting ways that a dentist can tell if you smoke.

Are Smoking & Vaping Bad for Your Teeth?

We have to be blunt here. Smoking and vaping are really bad for your teeth, mouth, tongue, lips, throat, lungs, blood vessels, eyes… the list goes on.

People who smoke are at an increased risk of certain types of cancers, especially oral cancers. 90% of people diagnosed with oral cancers are smokers.

And while there’s been plenty of discussion as to whether vaping is “better” for you than smoking cigarettes, there’s just not enough long-term data to know for sure. Your dentist can tell in your exam if you vape or use e-cigarettes, like the Juul.

A lady in a brown-coloured long-sleeve shirt is sitting on a sofa with her right-hand touching her left face which is swelling because of smoking.

What Does Smoking Do to Your Teeth?

Smoking affects your teeth in several different ways.

The nicotine in cigarettes and some vape liquids can cause your teeth to turn yellow and brown. It can have the same effect on your tongue.

Smoking tobacco and vaporizing certain ingredients, such as propylene glycol, cause dry mouth (cottonmouth). This isn’t merely uncomfortable. Saliva is an important element of your oral health. It helps prevent tooth decay (cavities) by washing away bacteria before it can become plaque.

Your dry mouth and lack of enough saliva due to smoking can: 

  • Affect the taste of food
  • Lead to cracked lips
  • Increase your risk of gum disease
  • Cause bad breath
  • Lead to more cavities

Additionally, researchers have found a link between increased teeth grinding and nicotine use. Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, can lead to pain and damaged teeth.

Is Vaping Better for Your Teeth than Smoking?

Vaping non-nicotine ingredients may have fewer health risks than smoking, but because this is a relatively new product, there isn’t enough long-term data to know for sure.

The Canadian Dental Association notes that:

  • Vaping has been linked to lung disease
  • Vaping has not been proven to help people quit smoking cigarettes
  • Early research suggests some vaping-liquid flavouring can cause damage to cells

Can My Dentist Help Fix What Smoking Did to My Teeth?

Your dentist can help you find solutions to many of your smoking-related dental concerns. Everyone’s needs are different, so a thorough dental exam is the best first step to getting personalized recommendations.

If you’re suffering from dry mouth due to smoking:

  • Your dentist may suggest an alcohol-free mouthwash designed for dry mouth
  • You can chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production
  • You can run a humidifier at night
  • You can drink water after smoking to rinse your mouth and rehydrate
  • You can choose nicotine-free vaping liquids if you already vape

Services your dentist offers that can address smoking-related concerns can include:

  • In-office teeth whitening, which is typically more effective than most at-home kits
  • Seeing your dentist every 6 months for an exam and cleaning
  • Veneers to cover stained teeth that you don’t like the look of
  • A mouthguard to help address nighttime teeth grinding

Your Dentist Is Here to Help You, Not Lecture You

We understand you might feel uncomfortable coming to see the dentist if you smoke. But please know that your oral health is our priority. We’re not here to judge you or lecture you.

That said, if you’re looking for tips to keep your oral health at its best, or you’d like resources for smoking cessation, our team is here to support you. Book your next hygiene and exam appointment at Shawnessy Dental today.

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