Smokers Breath: Causes & Solutions

It’s no secret that many smokers suffer from malodorous breath from time-to-time. While heavy smokers are most frequently affected, even occasional smokers can be unfortunate enough to suffer from questionable breath.

Worryingly, studies suggest that smokers often experience a “deterioration in olfactory sensitivity”(1). In short, you might not even realise that you suffer from smokers breath; and if you can smell your own breath then the problem may be considerably more advanced than you realise.

What Causes Smokers Breath?

There are three common causes of smokers’ breath, though these can often overlap and affect one another.

Chemicals from Tobacco

It should come as no surprise that the most immediate cause of “smokers breath” is the tobacco itself. Not only do the lungs retain a measure of this tobacco smoke even some time after a cigarette has been extinguished, but chemicals also remain in the mouth.

A study of smokers in Korea found a significant link between “nicotinic pigmentation” in smokers and the problems associated with halitosis(2).

Dry Mouth

A longer-lasting problem can be effects of tobacco smoke on bacteria in the mouth. These sulphur-producing bacteria feed on proteins, and produce chemicals known as “volatile sulphur compounds” (or VSCs for short).

Human saliva has a potent ability to counteract the activity of oral bacteria thanks to its pH. This is why many dentists recommend the use of sugar-free gum after eating, which encourages increased salivary flow, thus helping to fight against detrimental bacteria.

The inhalation of smoke has been found to have a “significant correlation” with dryness of mouth(3), meaning that smoking can lead to a proliferation of the bacteria known to cause halitosis.

A dry mouth doesn’t just impact the breath but has also been shown to be associated with other dental issues such as gingivitis (swelling of the gum line) and calculus build-up(4).

Oral Hygiene Issues

The third and final cause of smokers breath can be (in some cases) related to poor oral hygiene. Studies have found that smoking is often “associated with higher VSC values”, likely as a result of the two previous causes(5).

A repeatedly dry mouth may allow the build-up of tartar, plaque and other associated hygiene issues.

While many smokers dismiss the possibility of oral hygiene issues caused by their smoking there is far more to an effective oral care routine than mere brushing (as we will cover shortly).

How to Get Rid of Smokers Breath

While the most obvious answer to cure bad breath after smoking is simply to kick the habit, we are well aware of how difficult this may be.

Fortunately there are a number of other solutions which can be beneficial for the elimination of smokers breath.

Effective Oral Hygiene Routine

Due to the range of possible impacts of smoking on your breath it makes sense to ensure that you have covered the “basics” before you move on to experiment with other solutions.

The central foundation to any incidence of bad breath is an effective oral hygiene routine.

Brush & Floss Regularly

First and foremost, you should aim to brush at least twice a day, for a minimum of two minutes at a time. Most dentists agree that an electric toothbrush can be more effective than manual brushing for removing food particles, sloughed skin cells and so on.

However, brushing alone is often not enough to thoroughly cleanse the mouth; in addition dental tape or floss should be used on a regular basis to sanitise the tiny gaps between teeth.

Use an Alcohol-Free Mouth Rinse

Many smokers opt to use mouth wash in an effort to mask their breath. Sadly, many commonly-available mouth rinses contain a high concentration of alcohol, which is known to further dry out the mouth. As a result the impact of most mouthwashes is transitory, and serves only to cover the malodour with one that is deemed more pleasant.

However there is a new breed of mouth rinses, like our own. These anti-bacterial mouth rinses help to treat the cause of the issue; the sulphur-producing bacteria themselves. By actively fighting the micro-organisms known to cause halitosis your breath stays fresher for longer.

Secondly such mouth rinses are alcohol-free, meaning no drying effect on the palette.

The end result is a more effective, and longer-lasting routine which deals with the primary cause of bad breath.

Scrub Your Tongue

Brushing, scrubbing or scraping the tongue has long been known to aid with a reduction in VSC production. The reason is that the highest densities of sulphur-producing bacteria are typically found at the back of the tongue.

Regular use of a tongue scraper helps to not only remove such bacteria but also the protein (such as sloughed oral cells) on which they feed. One study found that brushing alone lead to a 45% reduction in VSCs, while combining brushing with tongue scraping lead to an impressive 75% reduction(6).

Other studies have found that tongue scraping is likely to be most effective when combined with the use of an effective mouth rinse(7).

A combination of brushing, tongue scraping, flossing and an effective anti-bacterial mouth rinse therefore all have a critical place in an effective oral hygiene routine – especially when dealing with smokers breath.

Drink More Water

As we have seen, a key cause of smoker’s breath is its effect of drying out the mouth. Regularly consuming small volumes of water helps to lubricate the mouth, and wash away particulate debris.

So if you’re a smoker try to keep a bottle of water with you and sip from it throughout the day.

Chew Gum

In a similar manner to drinking more fluids, chewing sugar-free gum can also have beneficial effects on smoker’s breath. Not only does the scent of the gum help to mask the unpleasant tobacco smell, but the act of chewing stimulates salivary production.

Mask With Breath Sprays, Herbs or Sugar-Free Mints

A variety of strategies may help to mask halitosis for periods of time, though should never be considered an alternative to an effective oral hygiene routine.

Assuming you have the key foundation routine in place, following a cigarette with a mint, or a blast from a fresh breath spray can offer an immediate – albeit short-term – solution to the effects of tobacco on the breath. Herbs such as parsley and mint can also have a positive impact on one’s breath when chewed.

Consider an Electronic Cigarette

Here at UltraDEX we would caution all smokers to consider quitting altogether.

Smoking can have far more wide-ranging impacts than bad breath alone, such as increasing the incidence of heart disease and a range of cancers.

However, for the “dyed in the wool” smoker primarily concerned about smokers breath, transitioning to an electronic cigarette can remove the smell of tobacco.

A range of fruit-flavoured vaping liquids allow you to receive the same nicotine hit but without the unpleasant smell.

That said, note that many of the other effects, such as a dry mouth, can still persist with electronic cigarettes, so should only be considered a small part of the overall problem.


  • (1) Almas, K., Al-Hawish, A. and Al-Khamis, W. 2003. Oral Hygiene Practices, Smoking Habits, and Self-Perceived Oral Malodor Among Dental Students. Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice 4(4). Available at:
  • (2) Hyun-Suk, L. and Mee-Eun, K. 2011. Effects of smoking on oral health: preliminary evaluations for a long-term study of a group with good oral hygiene. Journal of Oral Medicine and Pain 36(4), pp 225-234. Available at:
  • (3) Setia, S et al. 2014. Correlation of oral hygiene practices, smoking and oral health conditions with self perceived halitosis amongst undergraduate dental students. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine 5(1), pp 67-72. Available at:
  • (4) Rad, M. et al. 2010. Effect of long-term smoking on whole-mouth salivary flow rate and oral health. Journal of Dental Research, Dental Clinics and Dental Prospects 4(4). Available at:
  • (5) Bornstein, M et al. 2009. Prevalence of halitosis in the population of the city of Bern, Switzerland. European Journal of Oral Sciences 117(3), pp 261-267.
  • (6) Pedrazzi, V et al. 2004. Tongue-cleaning methods: a comparative clinical trial employing a toothbrush and a tongue scraper. Journal of Periodontology 75(7), pp 1009-1012 Available at:
  • (7) Quirynen, M et al. 2005. The impact of periodontal therapy and the adjunctive effect of antiseptics on breath odor-related outcome variables. Journal of Periodontology 76(5), pp 705-712. Available at: