Dear Dr. Mady: I am a 25 year old male who has been advised by my physician to quit using smokeless tobacco. As a dentist, can you tell me if it can really effect my mouth or not? - An Anonymous Reader
Dear Anonymous: In blunt terms, spit tobacco, snuff, chew or whatever it is called causes cancer and can kill you. So just SPIT IT OUT, literally. Being addicted to chewing tobacco is just like any drug addiction and if you don't stop there are many other side effects involved that are not real attractive. These range from bad breath to stained teeth, sores in your mouth or even tooth loss.
The main ingredient just like in cigarettes or cigars that makes snuff so addictive is nicotine. Many individuals feel that it is a safe alternative to smoking but what they do not know is that one small can of chew contains three to four times the amount of cancer causing agents compared with one pack of cigarettes. Because of this I feel that it is even more addictive and therefore harder to quit than any type of smoking. If you both smoke and chew then you are mixing up a very deadly cocktail and adding alcohol to the pot borders eventual suicide in my eyes.
The most common type of cancer obtained from spit tobacco is oral cancer but other areas of the body can become diseased. These include the nasal cavity, esophagus, pharynx, stomach, intestines and pancreas just to name the main ones. Chewing tobacco is commonly associated with the formation of white patches in the mouth, known as leukoplakias. Long term, untreated leukoplakias can become cancerous, but if the habit is discontinued early enough, these lesions may heal quickly.
In terms of it's effect on the teeth and gums, smokeless tobacco often causes localized gingival recession (gum loss) and the teeth become stained, long and unattractive in appearance. This occurs especially more often where the tobacco is habitually placed. It is also not uncommon for snuff users to posses generalized gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and tooth decay. Taking all of this into consideration, face the facts.
Changing any habit is not easy especially if it is an addiction. Nicotine has been recognized in the past as being as addictive as cocaine or heroin. An excellent way to quit chewing is with the use of nicotine gum which is available over-the-counter in several brands. You must be 18 years or older to purchase any of these. This will help ease the craving slowly and because it is used orally it helps replace the feeling of holding something in your mouth, providing a psychological benefit. During withdrawl you may feel irritable or grouchy, you may get headaches, drowsiness or even experience trouble sleeping. These symptoms will not last forever and there are certain things that you can do to assist you through the rough period. Get support from your family and friends, exercise regularly, get your teeth cleaned by your dentist or hygienist, keep your teeth brushed and appreciate how wonderful they look. Also purchase yourself something nice with the money you would have otherwise spent on chewing tobacco.
Your smile will then be bright and your breath will be clean and fresh. It will be like taking a new lease on life. All you need is strength and determination. Chewing will cost you money, your looks and maybe even your life so quit before it is too late!
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5