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Tobacco: Quitting the Addiction to Improve Oral Health

Tobacco can cause dental disease and oral cancer.

Scientific evidence has proven conclusively harmful, and ultimately lethal health effects on tobacco, both on users, and those exposed to secondhand smoke. Dental disease is no exception.

Lest the reader think this article is intended as a diatribe against smokers, be assured that the author, an ex-smoker, appreciates the overwhelming addiction of tobacco products. Tobacco addiction has been compared to heroin, and cessation of the habit is undeniably difficult. Just ask Mark Twain, who claimed to have "quit a thousand times."

Of course, the best approach to addiction is preventive. Public education about deleterious effects of tobacco is mandatory, particularly for school age children. As you've heard in war on drugs: "Talk to your kids." Tobacco is a dangerous drug and a potent addiction.

Smokeless tobacco, snuff or chewing tobacco, are not suitable alternatives. It adversely affects dental, as well as systemic, health. It may deliver even more harmful nicotine than smoking tobacco. About 8,000 people die every year from use of smokeless tobacco, 70 percent of which are from oral cancer. It is not pleasant cause of death.

Tobacco use, in any form, causes bad breath, discolors teeth and promotes periodontal disease, the primary cause of tooth loss in adults. Tobacco users have a decreased sense of smell and taste, and experience a higher incidence of sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

The most common sign of possible cancer in tobacco users is leukoplakia (loo-ko-play-key-ah), a white scaly patch or lesion inside the mouth or lips, common among many smokeless tobacco users. Red sores are also a warning sign of cancer. Unfortunately, signs of precancerous lesions are undetectable. Dentists may be able to diagnose such cases before the condition develops into oral cancer. If a white or red sore appears and doesn't heal, visit the dentist immediately for a dental exam. Caution may prove to be a life saver.

There have been many approaches toward eliminating a tobacco addiction. The first step is to recognize that it is, in fact, an addiction, and a serious one. Your dentist can help you kick the habit. In addition to teeth cleaning and treating bad breath and puffy, swollen gums associated with tobacco use, your dentist may prescribe a variety of nicotine replacement therapies, such as a transdermal nicotine patch or chewing gum that helps to wean addicted snuff dippers or tobacco chewers.

Nicotine patches are worn for 24 hours over several weeks, supplying a steady flow of nicotine. Major brands of patches are Habitrol®, Nicoderm®, Nicotrol® and Prostep®. Over the course of treatment, the amount of nicotine in patch decreases. The nicotine patch has a 25 percent success rate. Or you may try nicotine gum therapy on your quit day. One piece of gum is slowly chewed every 1-2 hours. Each piece should be discarded after 20-30 minutes.

However cruel it may seem, quitting "cold turkey" has proven to yield the highest success rate. For your health, and the well-being of those you love, it is never too late to rid yourself of this nasty, expensive and lethal habit.

Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.

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