Smokeless tobacco has been linked to oral cancer, tooth decay, gum disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and nicotine addiction. It causes bad breath and stained teeth. And it’s becoming increasingly popular with teenage boys. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, half of teen-aged boys have tried smokeless tobacco by their senior year of high school, and 20 percent are regular users. The average age of kids trying chew for the first time is ten. Thanks to an aggressive marketing effort by the smokeless tobacco industry, and the product’s widespread use by major league athletes, its use increased ten-fold between 1970 and 1990.
Smokeless tobacco is used in two forms. “Snuff,” the finer grained of the two, comes in cans or pouches. Users take a piece (called a “pinch,” a “quid” or a “dip”), put it between their lower inside cheek and gums, and suck the juice out of it.
The other form, chewing tobacco, comes in long strands and is sold in pouches. An individual portion is called a “plug,” a “wad” or a “chew.”
Once a person has used chew or snuff for a couple of weeks, the insides of their lips begin to dry out and wrinkle, crack, bleed, and develop sore spots. These spots are called “leukoplakia” (see below).
Toxic substances from smokeless tobacco:
Toxic substances from smokeless tobacco are absorbed through the tissues of the mouth and into the body. These substances are:
- Nicotine (more addictive than crack cocaine)
- Lead (you’ve heard of lead poisoning?)
- Formaldehyde (used to preserve corpses)
- Cadmium (found in car batteries)
- Uranium 235 (a component of nuclear weapons)
“Choosing between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco is like choosing between being run over by a speeding truck or a speeding car,” said W. R. Spence, M.D., the author of “Smokeless Tobacco: A Chemical Time Bomb,” a pamphlet published by HEALTH EDCO. “Their effect on your health is equally deadly.”
Smokeless tobacco is either chewed or tucked between the teeth and gums. Frequent users often keep a chunk in their mouths the entire day. The nicotine it contains is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, giving the user a “nicotine buzz.” This nearly instant, somewhat euphoric feeling is what makes chew and snuff so highly addictive. Users crave more and more each day.
Let’s take a detailed look at some of smokeless tobacco’s hazards:
- Leukoplakia: These are pre-cancerous lesions that form on the tongue or the inside of the cheek. One of the primary causes of these lesions is the constant presence of chewing tobacco in the mouth. The lesions are white or gray, with a slightly raised, thickened surface. Initially, they are painless. Three to five percent of these lesions develop into full-blown oral cancer.
- Oral cancer: Smokeless tobacco is loaded with carcinogens. When it’s sitting in the mouth hour after hour, day after day, these carcinogens irritate the mouth tissues, sometimes to the point of causing cancer. There are about thirty-one thousand cases of oral cancer diagnosed annually; of these, nine thousand result in death.
- Tooth decay: By itself, smokeless tobacco tastes pretty awful, so manufacturers load it with sugar and salt to make it more palatable. It also contains some grit and sand. The latter scratches the enamel of the teeth, while the former creates acid that cause teeth to decay. Obviously, neither are positive for your oral health.
- Gum disease: Smokeless tobacco is highly irritating to the gums; its constant presence can result in permanent damage to the gum tissues. The gums pull away from the teeth, exposing roots and causing pain and eventual erosion of bone. When bone is lost, teeth loosen and may even fall out.
- Cancer of the pharynx, larynx and esophagus: Smokeless tobacco contains high levels of cancer-causing substances called nitrosamines, which have been proven to increase the occurrence of cancer of the organs in the throat.
- Nicotine dependence: Smokeless tobacco is as addictive as cigarettes. It causes an elevation in blood pressure, an increased heart rate, and the constriction of blood vessels, reducing the body’s efficiency in transporting oxygen throughout the body. What does this mean to you? You may lose your stamina and endurance.
- Poor eating habits: Regular users of smokeless tobacco say their ability to taste food is greatly reduced, so they wind up eating more foods loaded with salt and sugar. This is unhealthy for your body as well as your teeth.
Smokeless tobacco also gives you bad breath and brownish-yellow teeth:
As if the health hazards weren’t enough, smokeless tobacco also gives you bad breath and brownish-yellow teeth and requires you to be continuously spitting out a brown wad of goo: not an impressive habit.
There’s a tremendous amount to lose, and absolutely nothing to gain, by using smokeless tobacco.
If you’re stuck with the habit:
- See our Houston dentist and have him check for signs of leukoplakia or oral cancer.
- Ask him to give you ideas on how to quit.
- Then start enjoying a healthier life.