Chewing tobacco is as much a part of our sports culture as the national anthem. What once began as an early 20th Century baseball player method for keeping their mouths moist on dusty fields has evolved into a virtual rite of passage for many young athletes.
But the persona of “cool” surrounding smokeless tobacco hides numerous health threats — including disfigurement and death. What isn’t as widely recognized is the degree to which chewing tobacco can adversely affect your teeth, mouth and gums.
Need more reasons to quit? Here are 4 oral health reasons why you should spit out smokeless tobacco for good.
Bad breath and teeth staining. Chewing tobacco is a prime cause of bad breath; it can also stain your teeth, leaving your smile dull and dingy, as well as unattractive from the unsightly bits of tobacco between your teeth. While these may seem like superficial reasons for quitting, a less-than-attractive smile can also have an impact on your self-confidence and adversely affect your social relationships.
The effects of nicotine. Nicotine, the active ingredient in all tobacco, absorbs into your oral tissues and causes a reduction in blood flow to them. This reduced blood flow inhibits the delivery of antibodies to areas of infection in your mouth. This can cause…
Greater susceptibility to dental disease. Tooth decay and gum disease both originate primarily from bacterial plaque that builds up on tooth surfaces (the result of poor oral hygiene). The use of any form of tobacco, but particularly smokeless, dramatically increases your risk of developing these diseases and can make treatment more difficult.
Higher risk of oral cancer. Besides nicotine, scientists have found more than 30 chemicals in tobacco known to cause cancer. While oral cancer constitutes only a small portion of all types of cancer, the occurrence is especially high among smokeless tobacco users. And because oral cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages, it has a poor survival rate compared with other cancers — only 58% after five years.
The good news is, you or someone you love can quit this dangerous habit — and we can help. Make an appointment today to learn how to send your chewing tobacco habit to the showers.
If you would like more information on the effects of chewing tobacco on general and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chewing Tobacco.”
For years, even as tobacco use began to decline and disappear in most settings, professional baseball seemed one of the few exceptions. Now, the tide is finally turning. Recently, the legendary right-hand pitcher Curt Schilling revealed that he had been treated for oral cancer — and said that his chewing tobacco habit was to blame. “I’ll go to my grave believing that was why I got [cancer],” Schilling told the Boston Globe.
Schilling isn’t the only former player whose oral cancer is blamed on smokeless tobacco. Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famer and beloved coach, recently passed away from oral cancer at the age of 54. His death led to players pledging to give up the habit. But many still use “dip” or “snuff,” thinking perhaps it’s not so bad after all.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. With nicotine as its active ingredient, chewing tobacco can be just as addictive as cigarettes. Not only is nicotine addictive, it also increases heart rate and blood pressure, constricts the arteries, and affects the body in other ways. In addition to nicotine, chewing tobacco contains about 30 other chemicals known to cause cancer.
Tobacco use of any kind is a major risk factor for oral cancer. While it isn’t as well-known as some other types of cancer, oral cancer can be just as deadly. About 43,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year — and the 5-year survival rate is just 57%. One reason for the relatively low survival rate is that oral cancer isn’t usually detected until it has reached a later stage, when it’s much harder to treat.
What can you do to reduce your risk for oral cancer? Clearly, you should stop using tobacco products of any kind. Moderating your intake of alcohol, and eating more plant foods and less red meat can also have an impact. And don’t forget to have regular dental checkups: cancer’s warning signs can often be recognized in an oral examination — and early detection can boost survival rates to 80-90 percent.
How does Schilling feel about chewing tobacco now? “I lost my sense of smell, my taste buds for the most part. I had gum issues, they bled, all this other stuff,” he told the Globe. “I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once.”
If you have questions about oral cancer or cancer prevention, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chewing Tobacco” and “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Often perceived as a cancer that only affects older adults who have a history of heavy tobacco and alcohol use, oral cancer is now on the rise among younger adults as well. New research has found a link between oral cancers, and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a disease that is primarily spread through oral sex.
Importance of Screening: If you're concerned about oral cancer, rest assured that our office routinely carries out a cancer screening exam on every patient. We have several ways to painlessly detect abnormal tissues in their earliest stages. In addition, please contact our office if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:
Although all of these symptoms can also be signs of less serious problems, be sure to alert our office if you notice any of the above changes.
Prevention: you can take a proactive role in preventing oral cancer by:
Let's talk about oral cancer. Yes, it's a scary subject — but the truth is, the more you know about it, the better able you are to protect yourself.