Teens who use smokeless tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, may be kidding themselves into thinking they are avoiding the risk of tooth decay and oral cancer because they aren't smoking, but a study at the University of West Virginia showed otherwise. Even regular dental care can't undo all the harm that tobacco causes to the mouth and tooth structure.
In addition to the oral health concerns, using smokeless products won't keep kids from smoking as well, researchers found. They have a greater likeliness of continuing to smoke as well as chew tobacco and snus - a dissolvable tobacco - than kids who don't chew tobacco. The study at the WVU School of Dentistry was published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.
Constance Wiener, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the university's Department of Dental Practice and Rural Health, led the study, which was based on data from nearly 10,000 high school students who participated in the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.
As in previous studies on smoking, the WVU findings were that smokeless products may lead to a higher incidence of oral cancer, soft-tissue lesions, tooth decay and gum disease, according to the ADA journal.
Tobacco warning as part of dental care
Based on the study, tobacco chewing joins smoking as one of the high risk factors for developing gum disease and tooth decay. Ignoring daily dental care such as tooth brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash as well as delaying trips to the dentist are other contributors to bad oral health.
But many people who want to observe good dental health habits are stymied by the high cost of dentistry services. For those with no dental insurance, an affordable alternative is a discount dental plan, which provides many procedures at reduced prices.
Overall, Weiner found that teens who used smokeless products were four times more likely to smoke cigarettes. Teen-aged girls were the biggest offenders. Compared to girls who didn't used smokeless tobacco, teen-aged girls were more than five times likely to smoke if they did chew tobacco or snus. Boys were about 3.5 times more likely to smoke if they used smokeless tobacco.
In the study, Wiener noted that dentists could increase anti-smoking education within their routine dental care for teens and encourage cessation programs for both smokers and those who use smokeless tobacco products. She recommended that smokeless items be included in the design of cessation programs.
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