Teeth Whitening for Smokers

Written by Dr. Brian Harris

April 15, 2021

This may be hard for some of you to believe, but I have never smoked a cigarette. Ever.

I was twenty-one when a friend’s rather … uhh … free-spirited little sister was driving me home one day. She was a smoker. And she was pretty proud of it.

“Just try it. It’s minty, “ she said.

“No, thanks,” I immediately replied.

“It’s no big deal. It’s menthol. It’s really mild, “ she continues to push a little.

I stare ahead and avoid eye contact. Surely she’ll quit pressuring me. I’m an adult. Adults do not succumb to peer pressure. I am so freaking strong minded. I’m like a mentally tough mind Jedi.

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“Come. On. It’s seriously not a big deal. Just put it up to your lips and taste it. I’m telling you, it’s minty,” she says.

“Okay. Fine,” I burst out and put the cigarette up to my lips.

I did not inhale. I repeat. I did not inhale.

And I didn’t like it. Hack hack spit. Cigarettes are definitely not my thing.

Yet cigarettes have absolutely been a thing for many other people over the years.

Cigarettes were invented way back in the early 1800s. Of course, that was after years and years of tobacco being chewed, stuffed into pipes, and rolled into fat cigars. (There is a reason tobacco crops have been grown for centuries!)

Tobacco leaves contain nicotine. Nicotine has an effect on us that nobody really talks about. Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine.

What’s the big deal about that? Well, dopamine is that lovely little chemical that makes you feel good. We like to feel good. And who doesn’t want to feel good?

As nicotine causes the release of dopamine, our brains are being conditioned to want more and more. The same way that taking drugs gives people a hit of a dopamine surge, tobacco offers its users a hit. That is how addiction starts.

Cigarettes became really popular in the 1960s and stayed popular through the 1980s. Billboards and magazine ads made cigarette smoking look so stylish and sexy. Lucky Strikes, Camels, Virginia Slims … Every one of those brands was heavily advertised to the American public.

People ate it up! Don’t believe me? I’ve got two words for you. Marlboro Man.

two man riding horse over the snow


Remember that man? Rugged good looks, cowboy hat, penetrating gaze, and he’s riding a horse.

With a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

And while most of us weren’t really focused on the cigarette, the message was loud and clear. Smoking cigarettes shows the world you are super sexy and cool.

It should come as no surprise why it became socially acceptable to smoke anywhere and everywhere.

We just didn’t know.

Years ago, we had no idea what cigarettes were doing to our bodies. We had no idea what second-hand smoke was doing to us. We just didn’t know that our lungs were being coated in tar or that smoking could lead to emphysema, bronchitis, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, and heart disease.

Those are all very bad possible side effects of smoking cigarettes regularly.

But there is one more obvious side effect of smoking. It’s not deadly. Nope. You can totally live with this side effect. However, you can’t hide it. You can’t deny it.

If you’re an avid smoker, your teeth are stained. They are yellow and brown and stained all over. Your smile probably doesn’t thrill you.

How do cigarettes stain our teeth?

The teeth are porous. This means they have pores in them like our skin. So with every puff on a cigarette, that nasty nicotine and tar present in the tobacco rolled up inside of a cigarette goes right into the pores of your teeth.

You know what that means, right? It means that the nicotine and tar are responsible for causing the teeth to become yellow or brown.

Tar is easy to guess as a teeth-staining culprit because it’s dark, sticky, and disgusting. But nicotine has no color. Nicotine has to be combined with oxygen to turn yellow. Well, whaddaya know, we breathe in oxygen straight through our mouths and past our teeth.

What about vaping? Those little electronic cigarettes are filled with nicotine-laced ejuice. Yes, electronic cigarettes contain nicotine that stains your teeth. And yes, electronic cigarettes are the same thing as vapes or vaping.

Depending on your puffing method, different teeth can have deeper stains based on where you place your cigarette when you puff.

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What Makes Cigarette Stains So Challenging to Remove from Teeth?

We know what causes cigarette stains. But why are they so hard to remove from your teeth? Cigarette stains prove difficult to eliminate because they don’t happen overnight.

Cigarette stains make their home in the enamel after years and years of being able to settle there because of daily smoking habits. Even worse, the staining works its way beyond the enamel and into the dentin.

What’s Up With the Darker Stains Outlining Each Tooth?

Cigarettes don’t stain your teeth like wine and coffee. Wine and coffee are not sticky. They don’t cling to tartar build-up like nicotine and tar.

When you don’t floss regularly, tartar builds up between your teeth, around the edges, and along the gum line. Tartar is actually even more porous than your enamel. So it’s practically a sponge for nicotine and tar.

Smoking can also be held responsible for a receding gum line. A receding gum line means that the root of the tooth is exposed. Our teeth’ roots are not covered by protective enamel; they are actually part of the much softer dentin.

This dentin exposed at the roots is fairly porous, unlike the enamel, and is highly susceptible to nicotine and tar stains.

What Can Be Done to Remove Cigarette Stains From the Teeth?

Professional Teeth Whitening Kit

First of all, see your dentist. That is what you must do first if you are taking your tear-stained teeth seriously. Your dentist will need to examine the level of destruction smoking has done to your teeth before giving a recommendation for the best course of action.

Smoking will cause every single tooth in your mouth to be stained. This is why most smokers will need to seek the treatment of a dental professional.

First things first. More than likely, you will be in for the deepest, most invasive cleaning you have ever experienced. All that plaque and tartar buildup must be removed before even attempting to have your teeth whitened. Doing this sets you up for better results with the whitening treatment.

A dentist can strategically apply the bleaching solution to your teeth to ensure every tooth is covered. They will also keep that bleaching solution away from your gums. Bleach and gums do not mix.

(Gums will become irritated and inflamed if a bleaching agent is left on them for very long!)

Does Whitening Toothpaste Work on Nicotine Stains?

The short answer is no. Whitening toothpaste will not get the job done on cigarette stains. Those stains are way too deep to be handled by a whitening toothpaste you can purchase at your local drug store or online.

Removing tobacco stains from the teeth requires that a stronger bleaching solution sits on the teeth for a long enough time to penetrate the surface and “lifts” the stain away.

One more thing. The bleaching agents used in whitening toothpaste are not strong enough to do the job. Sorry, Charlie. No dice.

What About Whitening Strips?

Nope. The beloved whitening strips are not going to get the job done for you. If you want to remove years and years of tobacco stains, that whitening gel must sit on every one of those stained teeth consistently for a prolonged period of time.

Whitening strips do not cover every surface of the stained teeth and stick tightly enough for the necessary length of time required to bleach the teeth. The strips are just not going to cling to every stained surface long enough to remove the stains.

Is There an At-Home Treatment to Remove Tar and Nicotine Stains from Teeth?

Yes. Yes, you can remove nasty nicotine stains at home. You can use a professional whitening gel from the dentist’s office. It will take longer at home because the solution is not as strong as the ingredients used in an office.

Snow makes one of the most effective whitening systems available. The whitening wands allow you to paint the bleaching agent onto each of your teeth precisely. This way, you can avoid your gums.

After you’ve painted your teeth with the bleaching solution, you can use the LED light, and nine minutes later, you can expect to see an improvement. Yep. Nine minutes a day will give you whiter teeth.

Snow also makes an extra-strength whitening serum for removing deeper stains and faster results. Not only do they make different levels of whitening gels, but they also make great charcoal dental floss to enhance your whitening. It whitens between the teeth.

(And Snow offers a desensitizing gel that helps with the sensitivity issues caused by whitening!)

When Is the Best Time to Whiten?

At the end of the day, when you’re finished with eating, snacking, and imbibing on glasses of red wine, get ready to do a little whitening. If you whiten before bed, you won’t be ruining all the bleaching you just did by eating food right after.

young lady lying in bed and using smartphone


And when you whiten just before bed, it allows your teeth to rest. During your little tooth respite, they will have a chance to remineralize and rehydrate during the night.

Before you apply the whitening treatment, floss, and brush with water. Yep. Brush with water. The fluoride in the toothpaste will create a mineral layer on the teeth and keep the whitening solution from penetrating the teeth’ surface.

Then, clean your whitening trays and do a gentle brushing of your teeth. Then you can pop a little desensitizing gel into your whitening trays and wear those babies for about twenty minutes.

How Do You Prevent Future Tobacco Stains?

You’ve heard it before, and you won’t like this bit .. but quit smoking. Yep. Quit smoking, quit chewing tobacco, quit puffing on cigars or pipes if you do not want any more tobacco stains.

Practice a solid oral hygiene routine. Floss, brush, and rinse twice a day every day to ensure you prevent tooth decay from plaque and tartar buildup. And see your dentist every six months for a regular check-up.

So What?

The long and the short of it is that if you are a smoker who wants white teeth, you cannot maintain a beautifully white smile while continuing to smoke cigarettes. You can bleach your pearly whites and have a dazzling smile for a while, but it will just be stained again if you do not quit using tobacco.

If you refuse to quit smoking, you can expect to whiten your teeth twice as often as a non-smoker. You will basically need to make it your job to have whiter teeth. You must be diligent in your pursuit of whiter teeth if you choose to keep smoking.

The bottom line is that your overall health will improve if you put down those cigarettes—and this includes the health of your mouth.

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