Much has been made about the harmful effects of cigarettes on oral health as well as overall health. But what about the stuff you don’t inhale, such as snuff and chew? In fact, these forms of smokeless tobacco are on the rise among Americans. In a study conducted between 2002 and 2008, there was a 47 percent increase in the number of new smokeless tobacco users.
Snuff is a finely ground or shredded tobacco that users “dip” between the gum and cheek. Chewing tobacco comes in a loose leaf, twist or plug form, which the user places inside the cheek. In the U.S., smokeless tobacco has long been associated with baseball. Players keep a wad in their bottom lips to keep their mouth moist, then spit the liquid out onto the field. Many people know the product simply as chew, spit, dip, plug and chaw. But whatever the name, the health risks remain.
Is smokeless tobacco better for you than cigarettes?
No. All tobacco, including snuff and chew, contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. Though nicotine is absorbed more slowly from smokeless tobacco than a cigarette, the amount that enters that bloodstream is three to four times greater than its smoking counterpart, while more nicotine per dose is absorbed stays in the blood longer. According to the National Cancer Institute, at least 28 chemicals in snuff and chew have been found to cause cancer.
One of the most common triggers from smokeless tobacco is gum disease, also known as gingivitis (in the early stage) and periodontal disease (in the advanced stage). When you put a pinch of chew on the inside of your lip, the chemicals in the tobacco irritate and erode the gum line, causing the gums to pull away from the teeth. Many regular chew users experience receding gums and permanent discoloration of their teeth. If you’ve ever seen a picture of someone who has a history of dipping, their bottom and top rows of teeth are a brownish-yellow. As the level of the gums sink, plaque and tartar find the bigger pockets to stick to and destroy the teeth. Extreme forms of gum disease lead to tooth loss.
Risks of cancer
With 28 carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, snuff and chew dramatically increases the risk for cancer in almost every spot in the mouth, including the lip, tongue, cheeks, gums and the floor and roof of the mouth. The most detrimental chemicals in the product are tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which develop during the growing, curing, fermenting and aging of the tobacco. Researchers have found that nitrosamine is a direct trigger for cancer.
In addition to oral cancer, cancers of the esophagus and pancreas also fall under the aftermath of snuff and chew.
Beyond the severe health risks, on a day-to-day level, chewing tobacco leads to a couple of stages of bad breath. The first is the smell of tobacco particles combing with saliva and stray food bits, resulting in a cringe-worthy odor. Once the plug is finished, the mouth begins to dry and the next stage of horrid breath kicks in. During this time, the oral microbes break down the tobacco remnants in the mouth and trigger the foul smell.
To get rid of this halitosis, individuals may try rinsing their mouths with a specialty freshener.
Best way to avoid health problems
The most surefire way to circumvent problems is to not use chew in the first place, or to quit. You only get one smile of pearly whites, so you might as well make the most of it! Plus, being around people who chew regularly does not make for great company. Their breath begins to stink and the jar of brown liquid that they spit in is far from appetizing.
• As of 2008, roughly 3.2 percent of people ages 12 and older in the U.S. used smokeless tobacco – that’s nearly 8.2 million people. Talk about a lot of people who need a visit to the dentist.
• In 2005, Americans spent $2.6 billion dollars on smokeless tobacco products, compared with $82 billion on cigarettes. Interestingly, while cigarette sales have dropped recently, snuff and chew sales continue to increase, tripling between 1986 to 2005.
• Men are about 10 times more likely than women to use smokeless tobacco in the past month.
• Use of smokeless tobacco is higher in younger age groups, with more than 5 percent of people ages 18 to 25 reporting they are current users.
The take-away is that smokeless tobacco is not a substitute for cigarettes. In many cases, it can be equally, if not more damaging for your mouth. If you want to keep that pretty smile and help avoid gum disease and cancers, it is recommended you steer clear of snuff and chew!