Smokeless Tobacco and Oral Health

Smokeless tobacco, also known as dip, chew, snuff, or chewing tobacco, comes in two forms: as loose leaves of tobacco or in a twist form.

Like cigarettes, chewing tobacco is highly addictive and can be harmful to your health. Many people, especially teenagers, believe that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking. Any form of tobacco use poses an increased risk of developing cancer, and no level is considered safe.

Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 known carcinogens, including addictive nicotine and chemicals called nitrosamines. Just like cigarettes, it causes a number of problems with your oral health.

If you hold an average-sized dip in your mouth for 30 minutes, you get as much nicotine as you would from smoking 2 to 3 cigarettes.

Oral cancer includes cancers of the lips, tongue, throat, gums, roof and floor of the mouth, and larynx (voice box). Surgery to treat oral cancer is often extensive and disfiguring and may involve removing parts of the face, tongue, cheek, or lip.

Signs and symptoms that could indicate oral cancer include any sign of irritation, like tenderness, burning, a sore that will not heal, pain or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips, development of a lump, a leathery, wrinkled, or bumpy patch inside the mouth, difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue, or any change in the way your teeth fit together.

Patients should contact their dentist immediately if such symptoms occur.

Smokeless tobacco can also irritate gum tissue, causing it to recede or pull away from the teeth. Gum recession is not only unsightly, but can make you vulnerable to decay on tooth roots and make your teeth sensitive.

Sugars, often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, as much as in candy, can increase the risk of tooth decay.

As health care providers, we recommend quitting if you use smokeless tobacco, as well as having regular oral cancer screenings.


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