Smokeless Tobacco: Not A Harmless Substitute

Armen Hareyan's picture
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At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in smokeless tobacco products and its use increases the risk of oral cancer by approximately 50 times. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) reminds teens and adults about the serious health risks, though often underestimated, associated with smokeless tobacco.

According to Dr. Bruce Terry, a PDA member and endodontist from Wayne, the University of Minnesota Department of Periodontics cites that of the estimated 10 million users of smokeless tobacco, three million are under the age of 21.

When chewing and sucking on smokeless tobacco, nicotine becomes absorbed in the bloodstream through the tissues in the mouth. Smokeless tobacco can cause various types of cancer such as mouth, lip, tongue, pancreas, voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder cancer. Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, putting users at an increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease. Because smokeless tobacco typically contains sugar, sand and grit, the risk for tooth decay and erosion is also significantly increased.

In addition to the risk of developing oral cancer, the use of smokeless tobacco also causes permanent tooth stains, bad breath and sores and painful patches on the lips and gums. Because smokeless tobacco also causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, the exposed roots make teeth more sensitive and prone to decay. Users are also subject to overall health risks such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, increasing the risk of heart attacks.

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"Of smokeless tobacco users, 40 to 60 percent exhibit leukoplakia (a white patch) in the area where the quid (tobacco) is held, usually within a few months of beginning regular use," said Dr. Terry. "Leukoplakia is regarded as precancerous and on average becomes cancerous in two to six percent of presented cases."

PDA offers the following tips to quit smoking and using smokeless tobacco:

-- Choose a "low stress" time to quit. Set a quitting date and plan and stick to it.

-- Remove all tobacco products from your home and seek tobacco-free environments.

-- Utilize family and friends as a support system.

-- Ask your dentist or physician about aids for quitting.

-- When you experience a craving, wait it out, drink water, distract yourself and breathe deep. The craving will pass.

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