This symptom of smoking is painless but can lead to discoloration and scar tissue on the top of your mouth.

Thanks to decades of research, we know that smoking and tobacco use can seriously affect our health.

While harm to your lung function may be the first risk that comes to mind, the reality is that nicotine and other chemicals released from smoking and tobacco use can affect virtually every major system in your body. Consistent tobacco use can also accelerate aging, leading to premature wrinkles, a loss of skin elasticity, and yellowing of your skin and teeth.

Nicotine stomatitis, also known as smoker’s palate or smoker’s mouth, is another possible side effect of regular smoking.

Nicotine stomatitis is a known side effect of chronic smoking that was first documented in 1926. Originally linked with cigars and pipe tobacco, the condition is now also linked with e-cigarettes, or vaping. Even though it’s in the name of the condition, nicotine isn’t to blame.

Instead, the intense heat of the smoke or vapor from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes causes lesions to form on the roof, or palate, of your mouth. Nicotine stomatitis is often considered a form of heat- or chemical-related keratosis, which is a thickening of the skin.

While nicotine stomatitis won’t directly cause cancer, chronic tobacco use, in general, can increase your chance of developing cancer.

Smoker’s palate is not a common side effect of smoking — but there is always a possibility that it will develop if you smoke heavily.

Nicotine stomatitis is usually a painless condition that doesn’t cause irritation. Because of this, many people don’t know they have it until it’s discovered in a dental checkup or routine physical exam at the doctor’s office.

In most cases, any symptoms related to smoker’s palate are limited to physical changes. But if you wear dentures, the heat won’t affect covered areas of your mouth.

What does nicotine stomatitis look like?

The primary symptom of nicotine stomatitis only involves visual changes. Repeated exposure to heated smoke or vapors from smoking will change the physical appearance of the palate so that it looks white or gray. These differences are only present in areas of your mouth with direct exposure to heat from tobacco products.

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Nicotine stomatitis may appear as a reddened area with white fissures or dots.
© Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Dental staining may be another symptom of nicotine stomatitis. But this also has close links with smoking in general, which can lead to dental problems if left unaddressed.

Is nicotine stomatitis dangerous?

True nicotine stomatitis is not usually dangerous and will not become oral cancer.

While it will change the look of your mouth’s palate, the skin should return to its natural pink color once you stop smoking. If the lesions don’t go away after stopping smoking, this is a sign that it’s not nicotine stomatitis and instead is something that might progress into malignant cancer.

Likewise, nicotine stomatitis usually isn’t painful. So if you feel discomfort, this might also be a sign that you’re experiencing something more serious. If your lesions remain after stopping smoking, don’t stay silent — talk with a doctor. They may recommend a biopsy to further diagnose your condition.

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Typically, stopping smoking is the only treatment for nicotine stomatitis. Often, the lesions begin to heal once you stop smoking or using tobacco products.

This is even true for people who regularly use tobacco and may have had nicotine stomatitis for decades. Usually, sores will begin to heal within a few weeks of quitting smoking.

Trying to quit smoking alone can be difficult. Getting help is known to raise your chances of quitting for good. When you’re ready, check out these organizations for more information:

Nicotine stomatitis is one of many ways tobacco use can affect your body. The heat from smoking or vaping can cause the roof of your mouth to turn white or gray with lesions and scar tissue.

Although smoker’s palate is generally benign, the visual symptoms can resolve within weeks of quitting smoking.