Patients Seek Advice on Quitting Tobacco from Dentists

Sometimes the most harmful question is the one that's not asked.

In a study conducted at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, 72 percent of patients who use tobacco products said their student dentist should talk to them about tobacco usage.

A full 88 percent said dentists should tell them that tobacco use can lead to periodontal disease and oral cancers, 67 percent said dentists should advise them to quit and 89 percent said dentists should provide information on tobacco cessation techniques.

Second-year dental student Robert Lewis surveyed patients of the dental school clinic, asking if they used tobacco and if they thought their dentist or doctor should intervene to help them stop. The study's goal was to find out if patients wanted information or their dentist's help in breaking their smoking or chewing habits.

According to the American Dental Association, use of any tobacco product can increase a patient's risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease.

Tobacco products damage gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. Smoking also can contribute to bad breath, stains on your teeth and tongue, and a build-up of tartar on your teeth.

Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative. At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in smokeless tobacco products. In addition, smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue and sugars, often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, can increase your risk for tooth decay.

Since the early effects of tobacco use often appear in the mouth, dentists are well-suited to counsel patients on tobacco and its risks.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7