Tobacco Damages
Thursday, April 7, 2005

Dear Dr. Mady: I have been a high school teacher for the past twenty-five years and I have to say that I see more tobacco use among teenagers now than ever before. Please address how damaging this is, at least as it relates to the mouth and teeth. I feel it is important for teens to grasp some understanding of the negative side of this addictive substance. -a concerned educator

Dear concerned educator: Thank you for your interest in this subject. I know from my own practice that the problem of teenage tobacco use is becoming rampant in our society. It may begin at school or anywhere, from social pressure or from other variables. The bottom line is that you are right. Tobacco use is very unhealthy and oral health is affected primarily even before the respiratory system and other organs.

What young people do not realize is that smoking and using smokeless tobacco increases your chance of developing oral cancer by four times. This is especially true for females, more than males. Teens think that older adults are the only ones who get cancer, if they think about it at all.

There is a great number of other, less drastic side affects associated with excessive tobacco use. Many of these are not life threatening but however have unpleasant consequences associated with them. They include but are not limited to leukoplakia, dry mouth, bad breath, stained teeth, increased mucous formation, decrease in taste and smelling senses, mouth sores, and promotion of destructive gum disease.

Leukoplakia is a white irritation often created by smoking and it does have the potential to turn cancerous like other mouth sores. Tobacco use in combination with alcohol is an even much more potent and damaging cocktail than people realize with respect to forming oral and throat cancers. If cancer develops or progresses into the esophagus, diagnosis is often not until the later stages and treatment is extremely challenging if at all possible at that point.

Gum disease, as we know, is basically the destruction process of the supporting structures of our teeth. These structures include mainly our gums, bone and periodontal ligaments surrounding the roots of our teeth. These tissues are very susceptible to tobacco use and if gum disease is already inherent, the situation only worsens when attacked by tobacco and it’s dangerous ingredients.

Youngsters who think it is “cool” to use smokeless chewing tobacco or snuff are in for a rude awakening if they don’t quit! If they think it is safer than smoking, they are in for a big surprise and should understand the risks. They do not understand how many different chemicals are being released into their bodies from smokeless tobacco and it is these exact toxins that are putting them at serious risk of illness. Just like tobacco that is smoked, snuff can cause dry and cracking, oral soft tissues and mouth sores that can lead to cancers in the throat, mouth and lips.

The main reason that tobacco is so destructive is because it contains known toxins that destroy our cells and tissues in our bodies. It also causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels, in the mouth especially. This is a narrowing of the small and large arteries and veins that our blood flows through and if there is constriction, there is less blood flow and circulation. We all know that increases blood flow means more healing and healthier tissues and organs in the area of more circulation. It only makes sense that in areas of decreased circulation, tissues will be more exposed to inflammation, disease and other unhealthy situations. The defense and immune systems of our body are affected in a negative way also if we use tobacco and eventually it shows on the outside even through your skin and eyes.

There are presently studies being performed that even may prove that second hand smoke not only causes cancer but may even cause periodontal or gum disease. Basically remember that tobacco and a healthy mouth don’t go well together.


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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



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