May 31, 2018 is World No Tobacco Day. In keeping with that here is some information on smokeless tobacco products.
Would you knowingly put embalming fluid, radioactive materials or cancer causing chemicals into your mouth? If you dip or chew smokeless tobacco products, you’re doing just that every time you indulge. The common view is that spit or smokeless tobaccos are less harmful than cigarettes. The reality is much different. Let’s take a look at what is actually going into your mouth.
Spit tobacco can contain:
- Nicotine, an addictive drug
- Polonium 210, similar to nuclear waste
- Formaldehyde, the same embalming fluid used on the animals science classes dissect
- Nitrosamines, a known cancer causing chemical that’s used in the tobacco curing process
- Up to 28 other chemicals that are known to cause cancer
- Other elements that are radioactive
And these are just some of the ingredients in spit tobacco!
Spit tobacco is most often sold in one of two forms: chew and snuff. Chew is leafy, bulky and often sold in pouches. As it’s name suggests, it is usually chewed. Snuff is finely ground tobacco, often sold in small tins. A pinch of it is held between your cheek and gum. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as dip or rub.
No matter what type, spit tobacco is highly addictive. It contains much more nicotine than cigarettes. Dipping or chewing for thirty (30) minutes delivers the same amount of nicotine as three cigarettes. It’s easy for you to get hooked without even realizing it.
Spit tobacco causes changes in your mouth as well. The most obvious thing you see might be stained teeth. Other, possibly less obvious, problems include your gums pulling away from your teeth in areas where you place your chew or dip. Once this happens, your gums do not grow back. This can make your teeth more vulnerable to decay on the root surface and can cause your teeth to be sensitive. You might be tempted to think that brushing and flossing will prevent or reverse any damage done, but there is no strong evidence that good oral hygiene habits do so.
The poisonous chemicals in smokeless tobacco can cause white, wrinkled areas inside your mouth. These areas are signs of tissue damage. Sometimes they are cancerous. Cancer is like a time bomb; you don’t know when it will go off. The longer you chew or dip the bigger your risk, but you don’t have to have used it for 30 years for cancer to form. Some athletes have developed cancer after only 6 or 7 years of use. Cancers of the head and neck are hard to detect, hard to treat and spread quickly, often metastasizing to other parts of the body. On average 50% of oral cancer victims die within 5 years of diagnosis.
If you chew or dip now or have in the past, you should take the following precautions:
- Tell your dentist. He or she will want to check your mouth for signs of unwanted changes. Having your mouth checked professionally every 3 months is recommended. Chances of a cure are better if mouth cancer is caught early so if your dentist finds a suspicious area, follow up on it promptly.
- Check your own mouth in between visits to your dentist. Look for sores, lumps, thickened tissues, swelling and red or white patches that don’t go away. If you find any of these, contact your dentist or doctor right away.
- If you notice any trouble chewing, swallowing or moving your tongue or jaw, contact your dentist or doctor right away.
As you can tell there are many drawbacks and few benefits to spit tobacco. If you’d like to quit, many of the same products that work for smokers will help you. You might also find chewing sugar-free gum or using sugar-free mints or candies helpful in providing that “something in your mouth” feeling you’re used to having with chew or dip. Your doctor or dentist can help direct you to resources to help you quit.
Note: The information in this post is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare providers.
If you do not have a dentist, we invite you to become a patient of Dr. Robb. Please call 440-960-1940 or use the contact form at www.drjrobb.com