Does Smoking Cause Canker Sores?
Is it possible to get canker sores from dipping tobacco? Can you get a canker sore from smoking? These are legitimate concerns for people who use smokeless tobacco or smoking products.
If you use tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, or smokeless tobacco products, it’s important to be aware of how they impact the soft mucosal tissues inside your mouth. Not only can smoking cause canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers, but it can also increase your risk of oral cancers. For these reasons, identifying your risk factors and performing self-exams on a routine basis is exceptionally important for tobacco users.
How Smoking Can Cause Canker Sores
Since some individuals smoke to relieve stress, it’s important to first recognize the link between stress, anxiety, and canker sores. Both smoking and stress are considered risk factors for aphthous ulcers. This is why experts recommend trying to manage stress as a means to reduce canker sore flare-ups.
On the other hand, excessive smoking and a high nicotine intake can lead to increased keratin layers over the sensitive oral skin (mucosa), which creates thicker skin in your mouth, much like a callous is thicker, rougher skin on your hands. These keratin layers protect the mucosa and can prevent canker sores. For this reason, some people will say that smoking does not cause canker sores but rather helps reduce their occurrence.
However, high levels of nicotine use can be dangerous and is discouraged by healthcare experts. Although it’s possible to get a canker sore from smoking, it’s vital to also discuss the increased risk that smokers have of developing oral cancer. This factor could cause a self-misdiagnosis of precancerous or cancerous lesions, mistaking them for ulcers instead of something more dangerous.
If you have a mouth sore that lasts for more than two weeks, whether it is painful or not, be sure to seek out a professional evaluation and possible biopsy.
Can Chewing Tobacco Cause Mouth Sores?
Irritants and traumatic injuries, such as biting your cheeks or accidentally poking yourself with sharp food edges, can trigger the development of a canker sore. Similarly, some people develop sores from dipping snuff. A high percentage of smokeless tobacco users tend to develop oral ulcers within a few days of using dip or snuff for the first time.
Since smokeless tobacco has small irritants to increase the uptake of nicotine, it may also irritate the sensitive skin inside of the mouth. There are numerous different types of sores and infections that can develop inside of the mouth due to the use of tobacco products. An accurate diagnosis of oral sores is crucial due to the higher instance of malignant growths seen in people who use chewing tobacco.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), not only does smoking cause canker sores, but not smoking or trying to break the habit may also trigger them as well. This seems contradictory, but it’s most likely because of the stress involved with giving up tobacco products. (And stress is a contributing factor to a canker sore flare-up.) If you’re using an oral nicotine replacement to help break your habit, these therapies can also lead to the development of ulcers.
Although the increased risk of ulcers is temporary, a tobacco cessation plan can significantly reduce the risk of oral cancer formation, both immediately and long-term.
If quitting isn’t an option, people who use smokeless tobacco may find it helpful to rotate where they hold their snuff in their mouth to reduce overall irritation in their mouth. It can also be helpful to avoid harsh toothpaste and mouthwash, such as those that contain alcohol or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Instead, rinse with a natural mouthwash containing gentle ingredients to soothe mouth sores and ulcers.
If you notice tobacco use has caused slowed saliva flow and irritation because of a dry mouth, a sugar-free mint for xerostomia can help with saliva production to ease mouth sores.
Again, any mouth ulcers that do not heal within two weeks should be examined by your dentist to rule out possible cancer or precancerous lesions. A biopsy may also be needed.
Can smoking cause canker sores? Yes. Can chewing tobacco cause canker sores? Also yes. However, paradoxically, heavy nicotine use also reduces canker sore development.
But more importantly, these habits can significantly raise your chances of developing life-threatening oral cancer, mask periodontal disease, and increase the risk of losing teeth. Addressing your smoking or smokeless tobacco use and developing a cessation plan may briefly raise your chances of new canker sores in your mouth, but the long-term benefits on your lifespan are more than worth it.