Motivation and Education

How Can Chewing Tobacco Harm Your Oral Health?

Loose Leaf Tobacco
Photo Credit: Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

Dentists often warn their patients of the dangers of smoking, but in case you thought that chewing tobacco was a good alternative, think again! As published in the journal IJMR (Muthukrishnan, 2018) smokeless tobacco has a plethora of negative effects on oral health –including oral cancer, leukoplakia (white patches in the mouth), loss of periodontal support, and the staining of teeth. Nicotine affects all organs, even when it is chewed. Moreover, even when chewed, tobacco is addictive, since it increases levels of feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Why does chewing tobacco cause major health issues and why should you avoid this habit at all costs?

Oral Cancer and Leukoplakia

In leukoplakia, white patches form inside the mouth. These patches can be dangerous because they can develop into oral cancer. Research has shown, for instance, that between 3% and 17.5% of these patches develop into squamous cell carcinoma (a common type of skin cancer) within a 15-year period. If you have these patches, see your dentist for a diagnosis. Common treatments for this problem include tobacco cessation, consuming a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, taking Vitamin A-based treatments or Isotretinoin supplements, and surgery. Even when surgery is opted for, lesions can return so it is best to prevent their formation in the first place.

Chewing Tobacco and Gum Health

Chewing tobacco, like smoking, can cause gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis). It can bring bacteria and food debris into close contact with your gums, causing infection, bleeding, and swelling. Gum disease can be harder to detect when you smoke because tobacco causes poor blood supply to the gums. Moreover, even if you brush and floss and keep regular dental visits for cleanings, your gums will simply not respond as well to treatment as those of non-smokers. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss, as infection can reach the bone that supports teeth, causing them to become loose and eventually need to be removed.

Tobacco and Staining

As is the case with skin, teeth have pores. They absorb the nicotine and tar contained in chewing tobacco and the result is discoloration. This type of stain can be difficult to remove, since it can settle deep in the enamel, penetrating the outer dentin layer. Professional tooth whitening can help though after this treatment, you should not go back to chewing tobacco or the problem can resurface.

What Is the Best Way to Quit Smoking?

The best way to quit smoking is essentially the way that works for you. It is important to try out different methods if you don’t succeed the first time. A recent study showed that going cold turkey was linked to a higher success rate than using nicotine replacement products. Doctors can also recommend medications which, combined with counseling, can help quell cravings, withdrawals, and other side effects of quitting.

When it comes to oral health, chewing tobacco is no better than smoking. This habit can cause cancer, gum disease, and tooth loss. It can also stain teeth since teeth have pores and absorb products like nicotine and tar. Don’t hesitate to quit chewing tobacco to preserve your dental health and sport a beautiful white smile.

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