Likely users of chewing tobacco are teenage boys who play baseball. But no matter who is using it, chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can harm oral health.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), children, especially boys, may begin using chewing tobacco as early as grammar school. Approximately four percent of boys in grammar school use chewing tobacco. This percentage leaps to 20 percent for high school boys, half of whom develop pre-cancerous white patches in their mouths.
Many boys begin to use chewing tobacco when they become involved in sports, particularly baseball. Researchers believe that young people are influenced by seeing professional baseball players using chewing tobacco at the ballpark or during televised games.
It may be smokeless, but it’s still tobacco
One of the newest forms of smokeless tobacco that is gaining popularity in America is called snus (rhymes with “goose”). It’s a Swedish type of smokeless tobacco that comes in teabag-like pouches that a user sticks between the upper lip and gum, leaves there for up to 30 minutes and discards without spitting.
This form of smokeless tobacco has become more popular because it’s not as messy as chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco and moist snuff, which often cause excess saliva during use. It does, however, still contain the active ingredients of chewing tobacco. Snus products are required to carry one of three warning labels that say the product is either “not a safe alternative to cigarettes,” “may cause mouth cancer” or “may cause gum disease and tooth loss.”
Smokeless tobacco and oral health
Just because chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco aren’t smoked as cigarettes does not mean they are harmless, especially when it comes to oral health. In fact, the American Cancer Society, in a study of 116,000 men, found that male smokers who gave up cigarettes for smokeless tobacco still had higher death rates from lung cancer, heart disease and strokes than men who quit all tobacco or never smoked.
Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco can lead to higher incidences of cavities and oral cancer. A few of the known health dangers of smokeless tobacco include the following:
- Smokeless tobacco products, just like cigarettes, contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals.
- Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas.
- Users also may be at risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder, because they swallow some of the toxins in the juice created by using smokeless tobacco.
- Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gums, causing gum (periodontal) disease.
- Sugar is often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, increasing the risk for tooth decay.
- Smokeless tobacco typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down teeth.
What you can do
If you are a smoker, a user of smokeless tobacco or a parent with a child or teen whom you suspect may be using tobacco, you can start by understanding that tobacco dependence is a nicotine addiction disorder.
There are four aspects to nicotine addiction: physical, sensory, psychological and behavioral. All aspects of nicotine addiction need to be addressed in order to break the habit. This can mean that tobacco users may need to try several times before they are able to successfully kick the habit.
Speak to your child directly about the risks associated with all tobacco products, including smokeless ones. If you have friends or relatives who have died of a tobacco-related illness, share the truth about it with your child, and discuss ways your child can say no to tobacco.