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Smokeless tobacco: how does it affect your dental health?

At first glance Stoptober appears to be all about smokers, but it also presents a great opportunity for anyone using smokeless tobacco products to get support and quit.

What is smokeless tobacco?

Most smokeless tobacco products are chewing tobacco (which can be loose leaf or plug tobacco) or snuff (which is finely cut or powdered). Paan and gutkha are examples commonly used among British/South Asian communities. Essentially, smokeless tobacco is any tobacco product which is not burnt. Just like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products are addictive because they contain nicotine. They also bring with them a host of oral health risks and complications. Studies have found that at least 28 of the chemicals in smokeless tobacco cause cancer, which impact the health of your gums, teeth and mouth.

How does tobacco impact your mouth?

Aside from yellowing teeth and bad breath, you might experience the following problems if you use smokeless tobacco products:

1. Damage to your gums

Gum recession is one way in which tobacco can damage your gums. You might experience pain and bleeding. Often surgery is required to correct receding gums.

More concerning still is the possibility of periodontal disease which can ultimately cause tooth loss. Tooth loss has a big impact on the appearance of your face and confidence. Remedying the problems caused by periodontal disease requires extensive treatment.

2. Accelerated tooth decay

Chewing tobacco can reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth. When this happens there tends to be an increase in plaque and tartar. This all results in increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay. Many people aren’t aware that manufacturers often add sugars to smokeless tobacco. This also adds to the risk of cavities and tooth decay.

3. Increase in sensitivity

In the same way that cigarettes don’t just contain tobacco, smokeless tobacco products also contain other materials. Commonly, smokeless tobacco products contain sand or grit. These particles scrape away at the enamel of your teeth and wear it down. Over time your teeth will become increasingly sensitive to temperature.

4. Cancers

Using smokeless tobacco makes you more at risk of a condition called leukoplakia. This means that white patches develop on your gums or inner cheeks. Leukoplakia is painless but it is considered premalignant which means that the damaged areas are more likely to develop cancer in the future.

The Oral Health Foundation has stated that the chemicals in smokeless tobacco mean that you are four times more likely to get some form of mouth cancer than someone who does not use tobacco.

What can you do?

According to the British Dental Association prompt diagnosis of oral cancer lead to a 90% survival rate. Any delay in diagnosis can lead to a 50% survival rate. If you use tobacco, it is really important that you attend regular dental appointments so that any problems can be picked up early. Maintaining good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day will help to minimise your risk, as will using mouthwash.

The biggest thing you can do to minimise your risk is to stop using smokeless tobacco products. There are lots of nicotine replacement therapy products on the market that can help you through the process. You’re four times more likely to be successful in quitting if you engage with your local Stop Smoking Service. Gaining support is really important to keep you committed and participating in Stoptober is one way you can ensure you stay on the right track.

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