Why do my teeth hurt when I quit smoking?

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When you quit smoking, it takes only 20 minutes for your heart rate to return to close to normal¹.

When you quit smoking, it takes only 20 minutes for your heart rate to return to close to normal¹.

But for many quitting cigarettes, tooth pain and other oral issues can surface unexpectedly - sometimes without a specific timeline for when it’ll end, cause you to ask "why do my teeth hurt when I quit smoking?"

That’s because while smoking, teeth problems are often masked, unlike other side effects, including a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath and coughing - until you decide to quit.

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The heat from smoking cigarettes causes damage to your gums and throat, triggering your gums to develop a protective coating on the older tissue². This protective coating is what hides painful side effects in your mouth, which is how you may not know of oral complications until you quit smoking.

Below, we look at how smoking can damage your teeth, what common symptoms to look for and advice for helping overcome the pain so you can continue to live a cigarette-free life and understand why my teeth hurt when I quit smoking.

How smoking hurts your teeth

Smoking typically stains on teeth is a common cosmetic side effect of smoking, however, issues related to smoker’s teeth may go beyond discoloration. Smoking weakens your immune system, which lessens your mouth’s ability to prevent infections - causing festering bacterial plaque and a higher chance of gum disease.

Festering bacteria on your teeth may cause gum inflammation and gum damage, and when it goes untreated, it can lead to gingivitis. With untreated gingivitis comes periodontal disease, a more severe version of gum disease that can affect the bone structure in your mouth due to a prolonged infection in your gums.

Periodontal disease can have very severe repercussions due to gum inflammation. In some cases, you can even experience tooth loss because the bacteria are causing the inflamed gums to pull away from your teeth³.

The issues don’t typically end there. Smoking may also cause other oral issues like discoloration, decay and infections.

Symptoms of oral issues caused by smoking

Oral problems involving your teeth after you quit smoking can range from mild to severe, and even the smallest of issues should be indicators to practice a better oral hygiene regimen. Smoking hurts your teeth in many ways, symptoms can include sensitivity, painful chewing, swollen gums and, in most cases, bleeding gums⁴.

Many smokers may not experience bleeding gums because of poor blood circulation. So, when you quit smoking, blood circulation improves in your gums, sometimes causing frequent bleeding - but this shouldn’t be an indication not to quit. It’s quite the opposite. If you experience bleeding, find a dentist to inquire about gum treatments.

How to fix oral issues caused by smoking

Tackling oral issues early is important to help relieve the pain as your gums begin to heal.

The first step is to check for signs of gum disease. These include toothaches, red and tender gums, tooth loss and swelling⁵. If you suspect you might have gum disease, visiting a dentist immediately will help address your tooth pain and other oral issues.

Brushing twice a day will also help combat the bacteria — once in the morning and once at night before bed. Flossing and mouthwash should also be incorporated in your oral routine, as antimicrobial mouthwashes can help reverse gum disease and flossing can reach bacteria in hard-to-reach areas.

Overcoming the hurdles

Sometimes, it can feel like oral pain will never end after quitting cigarettes. And when everything feels like it’s not working, there are several treatments to consider with the help of a dental professional’s expertise that can help reduce the effect of smoking on your teeth.

From oral antibiotics to bone surgeries and deep cleaning, your dentist can recommend a treatment that’s best for your condition. You can also inquire about prescription and over-the-counter medications or mouth rinses to help alleviate continuous tooth pain. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage for treatments, it is important to review your policy.

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  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/tobacco-health-benefits-of-smoking-cessation (February 2020) accessed August 2021

  2. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-and-oral-health (March 2021), accessed August 2021

  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473 (February 2020) accessed August 2021

  4. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/periodontal-gum-disease.html (February 2021) accessed August 2021

  5. https://www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-symptoms.htm accessed August 2021