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NEWS | March 19, 2010

Tobacco and your oral health

By Col. Donald C. Sedberry 779th dental Squadron commander

It is well known that tobacco is highly addictive and can cause serious diseases such as cancer, lung conditions (including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, chronic bronchitis and asthma), high blood pressure, and heart disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cigarette smoke is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; causing an estimated 438,000 deaths. In addition to lung cancer, smoking also increases the risk of many other types of cancer, including cancers of the pancreas, kidney, bladder and cervix. However, not everyone knows that tobacco is directly linked to bad breath, stained teeth, receding gum lines, gingivitis, periodontal disease and oral cancers of the throat and mouth. Whether it is smoking, chew, or dip, if it has tobacco, the chances of having dental issues greatly increase.

Stained teeth and bad breath result from the chemicals and toxins (like tar and nicotine) present in cigarette smoke, dip and chew. Chewing tobacco and snuff contain 28 carcinogens, with the most harmful carcinogens being the tobacco-specific nitrosamines. Other cancer-causing substances in smokeless tobacco include N-nitrosamino acids, volatile N-nitrosamines, benzopyrene, volatile aldehydes, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, hydrazine, arsenic, nickel, cadmium and polonium-210. Receding gum lines occur from the abrasiveness of smokeless tobacco against the gums and occur in periodontal disease. Gingivitis, noted by bleeding gums, is an inflammation or swelling of the gum tissue due to bacteria and plaque (bacterial deposits) that stick on the sides of the teeth. This is why it is so important to brush and floss daily because tobacco products cause increased plaque accumulation. Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a bacterial infection of the gums, bone, and attachment fibers that hold the teeth in the bone.

Over time, gum recession and pocket formation on the sides of the teeth occurs. The teeth can become loose and this can eventually lead to tooth loss. Oral cancer, which includes the lips, tongue and cheeks, is directly related to tobacco products because of the many chemicals present that are cancer causing. The surgeries for oral cancer, depending on location, can leave a person with scars, deformities, lack of taste due to tongue removal, and even the ability to speak properly.

So, why quit? If the above facts are not convincing enough, there are many other reasons. Currently, during these difficult economic times, money can be saved with no expenditures for tobacco products. Most importantly, there are many other general health improvements that occur immediately and over the long term from a tobacco free lifestyle. For example, second hand smoke, which is dangerous to the health of others, is eliminated. Most people also benefit from decreases in blood pressure which lowers the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The risk of lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas cancers also decrease.

If you don't use tobacco products, that's great! However, if you do and you are considering quitting, there are many resources available to help. You can contact your dentist or the Health and Wellness Center on base. The HAWC phone number is 240-857-5601. Also, there are many online resources for additional information. The American Dental Association, American Cancer Society and American Lung Association Web sites have information available.