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.