Is Chewing Tobacco Killing Your Gums?

Is Chewing Tobacco Killing Your Gums?

The health of your gums is particularly important. Poor periodontal health is associated with many different systemic diseases, including erectile dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, dementia and heart disease. Exercising meticulous oral hygiene can promote good gum health, but there are also actions that you can take to cause periodontal issues. One of the most detrimental habits when it comes to the health of your gums is chewing tobacco.

Chewing Tobacco

Chewing tobacco, which is sometimes called dip, snuff or smokeless tobacco, is usually applied between the inner lip or cheek and the gums. As a result, the tobacco is in direct contact with your gums for a prolonged period. If you chew tobacco, you may be leaving the product in place for up to half an hour without spitting. Lengthier periods of exposure may intensify the negative impact on your gums.

For more convenience, chewing tobacco is also available in pouches. The small packages of tobacco are still placed in the pocket of your cheek or lip, but they lessen the mess associated with putting the tobacco in place. In addition, the pouch may help reduce the amount of saliva that is produced while the tobacco is being “chewed.” Nevertheless, all basic forms of chewing tobacco still possess the same harmful characteristics of the tobacco plant.

Many people feel that because smokeless tobacco is chewed instead of smoked, it is healthier for their body.  After all, it may not impact oxygen flow to the gums as smoking does. Still, when it comes to the health of your gums,  chewing tobacco is quite harmful.

Gum Problems from Chewing Tobacco

Here are some of the gum-related problems that can result from chewing tobacco:

  • Cancer. Chewing tobacco, like cigars and cigarettes, contains chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
  • Inflammation. Chewing tobacco can cause gum inflammation that eventually leads to periodontitis.
  • Increase in Oral Acids. Some varieties of chewing tobacco include sugar, which feeds oral bacteria to incite tooth decay and gum irritation.
  • Exposure to Grit or Sand. Chewing tobacco is sometimes abrasive or gritty. As you chew, it can result in increased gum irritation and enamel erosion.

Indications of Cancer from Chewing Tobacco

If you chew tobacco regularly, you may be concerned about developing cancer. Cancers that are associated with chewing tobacco sometimes present as white lesions or patches inside your mouth. Also, you may notice red sores that do not easily heal. It is important to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of oral cancer.

Chewing Tobacco Leads to Gum Disease

Chewing tobacco can corrode your gums, causing them to recede and develop pockets. These pockets grant oral bacteria access to your bloodstream and your jawbone. Over time, systemic conditions and loss of bone material can occur.

Since chewing tobacco sometimes includes sugar, it can provide a food source for oral bacteria. The bacteria within your mouth feed on simple sugars, and as they feed, acid is released as a digestive byproduct. This acid not only causes tooth decay by demineralizing your teeth, but it also irritates sensitive gum tissue.

As the gums become increasingly inflamed, more severe forms of gum disease may develop. Initially, you may notice that your gums appear a bit red and swollen or may bleed more easily when you brush your teeth. These are indications of gingivitis, an early form of gum disease. However, as the gum inflammation progressives, you may notice that your gums start to recede, giving your teeth a longer appearance. In addition, an infection may ensue, causing pus to ooze from your gums. Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, may cause bone and tooth loss.

Avoiding Gum Problems from Chewing Tobacco

If you currently chew tobacco, the best way to avoid problems with your gums is to stop. Your dentist may be able to help. Your dependence on chewing tobacco is likely related to its nicotine content. Your dentist may be able to prescribe medications that can help replace the nicotine from the tobacco and slowly wean you off of the substance. Often these medicines come in the form of gum or patches.


If you chew tobacco and would like to have your gums assessed, contact our office to schedule an appointment.