Chewing Tobacco -- it's been touted as a safer alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, chewing tobacco for the long-term still causes many health problems and is a hard habit to break. But did you know that tobacco use can cause serious oral health problems as well?
Just like smoking, tobacco contains the extremely addictive chemical known as nicotine. But in addition to nicotine, there are approximately 30 cancer-causing substances found in smokeless tobacco. So what kinds of problems can you run into with chewing tobacco?
Users place chewing tobacco along the gum line and let it sit there for long periods of time. While it sits, it releases chemicals that irritate the gums, causing the gums to recede. This significantly increases your risk of gum disease potentially leading to serious infection (periodontitis) and tooth loss.
Smokeless tobacco contains a lot of sugar. If you are placing it next to your teeth and just letting it sit there, the sugar feed bacateria that cause tooth decay. Chewing tobacco also has sand and grit in it that wears down tooth enamel, opening the door for even more cavities.
It really should come as no surprise that chewing tobacco can also cause cancer anywhere in your mouth or throat. In particular, you can get small, white, pre-cancerous lesions called leukoplakia in your mouth. The more you chew, the higher your chances of getting cancer.
It may seem like a better idea to chew tobacco rather than smoke. But the reality is that smokeless tobacco can do just as much harm to your health as smoking. Quitting can be difficult, but with medications or help from a doctor you can kick the habit and look forward to a brighter future of oral health.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local Gettysburg dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.