Young baseball players who want to emulate baseball slugger Mark McGwire need to do more than swing a big bat. They also need to give spit tobacco the thumbs down sign.
The home run king does not use spit tobacco because he knows the dangers it poses. Mr. McGwire's father John is a semi-retired dentist who lives and practices in Pomona, CA. The younger McGwire learned at an early age the importance of good dental hygiene, which does not include chewing spit tobacco.
When Sammy Sosa appeared on the Jay Leno Show, he was asked by Jay Leno why he used spit tobacco. Mr. Sosa replied that he did not use spit tobacco; instead, he chews sunflower seeds.
Mr. McGwire participated in an anti-tobacco campaign conducted by the Alliance of the American Dental Association and supported by Oral Health America, a Chicago-based dental care foundation.
Numerous dental organizations have conducted campaigns through the years that describe the dangers of spit tobacco. Some campaigns have focused directly on professional baseball players who can be seen on television with large wads of chew in their mouths or spitting tobacco while at bat.
"It's really a disgusting habit," says Aloysius Kleszynski, a general dentist who practices in Oak Lawn, IL. "I just cannot imagine carrying this incredibly gross substance around in my mouth and spitting it wherever I went. It's supposed to give you a small buzz but I can't see how it would be worth it."
Indeed, a 1995 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association noted that major league baseball players believed the use of spit tobacco improved their ability to relax, concentrate, remain alert, and improve their performance. However, researchers found that spit tobacco does none of the above.
The mean batting average for players who did not use spit tobacco was .248, while users hit for an average of .238. Players who did not use spit tobacco had an average fielding percentage of .978, while users had an average fielding percentage of .968. Players who used spit tobacco were more likely to have precancerous lesions, tooth wear and gum recession than non-users.
"Baseball players and other athletes should stop using spit tobacco because it does nothing but harm," says Dr. Kleszynski. "Sooner or later, spit tobacco users will see the damage it causes. I wish more professional players would be more courageous and set a good example for their fans instead of pursuing a macho habit."
The Chicago Dental Society recommends that young men avoid using tobacco products, that they visit the dentist regularly for oral cancer examinations, and that they ask their dentists for assistance in quitting the tobacco habit.
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