Smoker's Melanosis

Smoking has many more consequences than lung cancer, and one of them is smoker's melanosis. We'll tell you all about these black spots that appear in smokers' mouths.
Smoker's Melanosis

Written by Carmen Martín

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Smoker’s melanosis is only one of the potential dangers of smoking. We all know that being a smoker brings with it numerous problems. It’s really harmful to health, although people are unaware of all the health issues that can be associated with this habit, aside from lung cancer.

Melanosis consists of the appearance of dark-colored spots on the skin and mucous membranes. It’s a benign process, but people confuse it with much more complex processes such as oral cancer. Both situations are characterized, at first, by dark spots in the mouth.

Researchers currently estimate that around 8 million people die each year as a result of smoking. Moreover, it doesn’t just affect the smoker, but can also affect the health of all those around them.

The number of smokers continues to increase, and perhaps the reason for this is that the population isn’t fully aware of all its negative effects yet. Therefore, in this article, we’ll explain what smoker’s melanosis is and how to treat it.

What is smoker’s melanosis?

As we’ve already mentioned, melanosis is characterized by the appearance of dark spots in the mouth, mainly on the gums. It’s a benign and reversible condition. According to scientists, it’s caused entirely by smoking.

This means that there aren’t genetic factors that affect the appearance of these stains. In addition, although the main cause is smoking, they can also be caused by chewing tobacco.

Smoker’s melanosis is due to the fact that some components of tobacco stimulate the melanocytes of the mucosa. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for producing melanin. This is the substance that determines the color of our skin.

Researchers estimate that melanosis affects around 30% of all smokers. The factors that most influence the development of this disease are the amount of time one has been smoking and also the amount of tobacco consumed.

In addition, it’s often accompanied by bad breath and a yellowing of the teeth. In principle, it’s only an aesthetic problem. However, the truth is that melanosis can lead to undetected detection of more serious diseases, such as cancer.

A man with smoker's melanosis.

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How to differentiate melanosis?

As we’ve explained, the importance of melanosis lies in the fact that it’s easily confused. In other words, a person who has dark spots in the mouth due to smoking may have different health issues. It could even be cancer.

Oral cancer is closely related to being a smoker. In fact, almost 8 out of 10 people who suffer from oral cancer are smokers. The symptoms of this pathology are varied. The first sign that appears is usually in the form of color changes in the mucosa.

However, cancer isn’t the only health issue people often confuse with melanosis. We also believe it’s important to know that certain lesions of the blood vessels have a similar appearance. Similarly, there are other diseases such as:

  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Addison’s disease

How do doctors diagnose it?

The only way to differentiate a smoker’s melanosis from another health issued is to perform a biopsy. In this way, the physician makes sure that the dark spots aren’t signs of other problems. However, before performing the biopsy, ideally the patient should stop smoking.

When they stop smoking, if it’s really melanosis, the spots will disappear with time. As we’ve already mentioned, it’s a reversible issue. Even so, it may take years to disappear.

A mouth with a tobacco burn due to smoker's melanosis.

You may be interested in: How Tobacco Affects the Skin

In conclusion

Melanosis is a benign condition. However, if you’re a smoker, it’s very important to see a doctor at any sign this may be occurring. You need to check if it’s melanosis or if the spots are due to a cancerous process or another disease.

In addition, you must avoid smoking at all costs. All the substances it contains have negative effects on our bodies. Therefore, you should think about different forms of therapy, medication, and many other ways to quit this habit.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.