In the United States alone, tobacco use is responsible for one in five deaths, primarily from cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, other types of cancer and respiratory diseases. In North America, approximately 75% of all oral cancers are associated with tobacco use and alcohol consumption. At least 80% of oral cancer patients are smokers, and oral cancer patients who continue smoking after treatment are much more likely to develop another head or neck cancer.
Tobacco use is also linked to other types of oral health problems, ranging from serious (increased risk of periodontal disease) to social (bad breath) including:
- Periodontal disease
- Increased severity of periodontal disease
- Gum recession
- Sticky tar deposits on teeth
- Brown staining on teeth
- "Smoker's palate" (a red inflammation on the roof of the mouth)
- Delayed wound healing
- Tooth decay (possibly a secondary effect due to large amounts of sugar in smokeless products or less frequent dental check-ups)
- Tooth abrasion (possibly due to the sand and grit in processed tobacco; also seen in pipe smokers, from clenching the pipe between teeth)
- Diminished blood flow to oral area
- Altered taste
- Black hairy tongue oral lesions
- Precancerous changes in soft tissue
Tobacco use is also related to many other problems, including cancers of the larynx, esophagus, pancreas and bladder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, gastric ulcers, low birth weight babies and spontaneous abortions. All tobacco products, cigarettes, smokeless/spit tobacco, cigars, and pipes, are associated with oral cancer.
Logic alone indicates that tobacco use has effects on teeth, gums, tissues and bones. Cigarettes and other types of tobacco products contain many irritants, toxins, and carcinogens. Pipe and cigar tobacco contain sulfur. More than one-fifth of the content of some brands of smokeless tobacco is sugar. Smokeless tobacco also contains over 2,000 chemicals, many of which have been directly related to causing cancer.
The most significant preventive measure used to prevent the health problems caused by tobacco use is to stop using tobacco products. The risk of developing oral cancer drops rapidly when a smoker ceases tobacco use. After ten years of not using tobacco, an ex-smoker/user's risk of oral cancers is about the same as that for someone who has never smoked.
To stop smoking, or using tobacco products, is much more easily said than done. The nicotine found in substantial amounts in tobacco products is widely considered to be a powerfully addicting drug. But it's important to remember that, while it will be difficult, ceasing to use tobacco has immediate health benefits, including increased life expectancy and reduced risk of tobacco related diseases and conditions.© 2007 Avis Ward of AWard Consulting, LLC