The lure of tobacco ensnares far too many teens across America today. According to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 2 million high school students and 800,000 middle school students use some form of tobacco product.

In Louisiana alone, 1 in 3 high schoolers reported using e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 Louisiana Youth Tobacco Survey.

These alarming statistics endanger not only long-term health but also adolescent oral health still developing in these formative years. Yet the majority of smokers embark on this high-risk path prior to adulthood, often unaware of the consequences ahead.

Since the majority of smokers first try cigarettes before age 18, parents and guardians play a critical role in having open and honest conversations about the dangers of tobacco and dissuading use during developmental years.

Oral Health Effects of Tobacco Product Use

There are a variety of tobacco products that people commonly use, including e-cigarettes, cigars, cigarettes, nicotine pouches, and smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco, snuff, dip, and dissolvable.

Tobacco use can have devastating effects on oral health, especially for young users. The chemicals in tobacco products attack tissues throughout the mouth, putting teens at risk for multiple issues that can last a lifetime.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is caused by harmful bacteria that remain on the gums for extended periods of time. Smoking and vaping weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off gum infections.

Tobacco products also increase inflammation, which causes gum disease.  As gum disease worsens, the bacteria can reach the tooth roots and jaw bone structure. This can lead to teeth becoming loose and eventual tooth loss.

Oral Cancer

One of the most dangerous effects of tobacco use is a heightened risk of oral cancer. Tobacco products contain chemicals that are carcinogenic, meaning they can cause changes in cells in the mouth, which can develop into oral cancer.

Nicotine also restricts the flow of blood to cells, therefore limiting how much oxygen the tissues receive, which contributes to the formation of cancer cells.

Tooth Discoloration

One of the most noticeable effects of tobacco is the yellowing or browning of the teeth. The tar and nicotine found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chew, and other tobacco products cling to tooth enamel, causing stubborn stains that are difficult to remove.

Bad Breath and Dry Mouth

Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products can lead to persistent bad breath. Additionally, tobacco use can cause dry mouth, which reduces saliva. Decreases, your teeth and gums are less protected and are therefore more prone to cavities and gum disease.


People who smoke are at a higher risk of developing cavities. First, the nicotine in cigarettes wears away tooth enamel, causing teeth to become more vulnerable to decay.

Second, tobacco use reduces saliva flow in the mouth, causing plaque buildup that further degrades tooth enamel.

Third, flavoring agents in e-cigarettes contain sugars and produce acidic vapors, which degrade the teeth and cause cavities. Combined, these factors make smokers and vapers far more prone to tooth decay.

Read Also: The 5 Most Common Causes of Cavities in Children

What about Tobacco Alternatives?

Many people believe that using smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as smoking.

The level of nicotine tends to be higher in smokeless tobacco products than in cigarettes, which makes smokeless tobacco extremely addictive and more difficult to quit.

Similarly, many people think vaping is a safe tobacco alternative. While it may be true that health risks from vaping are less than cigarette smoking, the risks are still significant and introduce a whole new variety of chemicals to the body.

The vapors produced can include chemicals such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, aroclein (a main ingredient in weed killer), and heavy metals like lead!

There are also heating elements in vaping pens that have been linked to explosions and serious chemical burns.

Studies from the National Institute of Health (NIH) have shown that vaping can harmfully alter the natural bacterial biome in your mouth. When compared to non-smokers, vapers have tested positive for bacteria highly linked to gum disease and increased inflammation.

How Parents Can Help Prevent Tobacco Use in Children

The detrimental impacts of tobacco use on kids’ health are significant. Beyond the obvious oral health risks, tobacco use negatively affects overall physical health and can lead to severe long-term consequences.

The best course is to prevent children from using tobacco at all. There are proactive steps parents and guardians can take, including:

Educate Yourself and Your Kids

Get informed about the health impacts of different tobacco products so you can have educated conversations.

Go over facts, risks, contents, addiction potential, and marketing tactics used to attract youth. When kids understand all facets, they gain skills to evaluate and resist peer influences.

Set a Good Example

Set a positive tobacco-free example for your children each and every day. Make healthy choices that demonstrate the lifestyle you want your kids to embrace.

Create a Judgment-Free Space

Don’t lecture, accuse, or demand. Gently ask if your child has questions about tobacco or has been offered products.

Listen without attacking, even if they admit to trying or ongoing use. Work together to understand why and decide the next steps.

Read Also: The Potential Risks of Piercings to Your Teen’s Oral Health

As parents and pediatric dentists, we want all children to have the best oral health possible. That’s why our pediatric dental specialists offer compassionate dental care tailored specifically for teens.

We understand the unique needs teens have and make sure they feel comfortable and informed during every visit.

If you’re looking for a dentist for teens in Lafayette, look no further! We also serve patients in the surrounding areas, such as Carencro, Broussard, Youngsville, and Breaux Bridge. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.