Nurse talking to patient in the waiting room while other patient is in the background reading

Effects of Smoking and Talking to Patients About Quitting

Nov 03, 2017

Author: Mandy Dennis, RDH

Smoking cessation is an important discussion no matter your patient's age or how long he/she has been smoking.

Discussing the effects of smoking and the importance of quitting is difficult. Have you begun talking, only to get an eye roll from your patient? Many patients have heard the same story time and time again, so what can you do to help change the conversation? Are you thinking outside the box to help your patients quit?

Informing a patient that smoking is bad for them isn't enough. By adulthood, everyone has heard the statistics and knows tobacco products are unhealthy. Clinicians can often get caught up in the idea that adults can make their own decisions to be unhealthy, and as a result, people tend to skirt the issue. However, choosing not to talk to patients about the effects of smoking is not in their interest.

Smoking cessation is an important discussion no matter your patient's age or how long he/she has been smoking. When you address the topic, it should come from a place of care and education, without a condescending tone. Here's how to have a more productive discussion with your patients about smoking and their health.

Educate and Be Persistent

The American Cancer Society has many resources to help educate patients about smoking's health effects. Patients may need to hear the same recommendations several times before committing to them. Educate your patients not just about the effects of smoking but also about how to quit. It's possible they don't realize the opportunities available to them to help them quit.

Give Them a Challenge

Every November, the American Cancer Society holds an event called The Great American Smokeout. It challenges smokers to quit smoking for 24 hours. The goal is to challenge smokers to move forward in choosing a healthier lifestyle, one small step at a time. Clinicians can draw inspiration from this initiative.

Challenges that offer rewards for successful completion are a great way to get people on board with healthy habits. Speak with your doctor and office to find a challenge that rewards the patient for staying smoke-free for a specified time. For example, if you work in an office that places implants, your office could offer a discounted rate for its implant service. The patient will not only be better off, but the implant will have a higher chance of success in a healthier mouth. Offering tooth whitening for patients who sign a commitment sheet and follow through is another idea. Once again, your office will have helped the patient be healthier, and your patients will love their brighter smiles!

Find Their Motivation

The American Cancer Society explains that stress relief, social influence, perception and habit are key reasons why people smoke. Talk with your patients to understand why they use tobacco to help you determine a specific tactic that may help them quit. With specific habit changes, such as avoiding trigger locations (like a bar), finding other ways to keep their hands busy and rewarding themselves for overcoming an urge to smoke, your patients may be more likely to quit permanently, explains the American Cancer Society.

Challenge your patients to find a new habit. Some people swap smoking for other bad habits, such as overeating. For healthier suggestions, you can direct your patients to the Smokers' Hotline. This is a great resource and can help patients identify why they smoke and then offer alternatives that serve a similar purpose. For example, if your patients explain that they like handling cigarettes, this resource suggests keeping other objects on hand to fidget with, such as rubber bands.


  • Help your patients identify why they smoke and explain the need to stop smoking.
  • Challenge them to be successful by giving them a reward for quitting.
  • Help your patients find a healthier habit to replace their smoking habit.

Why It's Important

As a dental hygienist, it is your responsibility to initiate and follow up with respectful conversations about the health risks of smoking. To be successful, it's important to use tools specific for each patient. A thoughtful, caring, personalized conversation may be the one that speaks directly to your patients and helps them choose a healthier lifestyle free of tobacco.

Background Image

Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.