Ask The Dentist is a series of columns written by Dr. Mady to answer your questions about dentistry and oral health!
Dear Dr. Mady: I have been a high school teacher for the past twenty-five years and I feel 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. 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 side effects associated with excessive tobacco use. Many of these are not life threatening, but have unpleasant consequences. 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 has 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 of the supporting structures of our teeth. These structures include mainly our gums, bone and periodontal ligaments surrounding the roots of our teeth, which are very susceptible to tobacco use. If gum disease is already inherent, the situation may only worsen when attacked by tobacco.
If you believe tobacco is safer than smoking, you are in for a big surprise and should understand the risks.
There are so many different chemicals are being released into the body from smokeless tobacco, and these exact toxins create a serious risk of illness. Just like tobacco that is smoked, this 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. We all know that increased 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.
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.
If you want more information about any of the above topics or about cosmetic dental procedures, contact our office today. Our team would be happy to provide more information on oral cancer and prevention tactics.