Viruses Treatment Articles

Tobacco: Smokeless Does Not Equal Harmless

August 19, 2017

You don't smoke it. You don't sniff it. You don't even have to swallow it, but its effects can harm your body nevertheless. It's smokeless tobacco.

The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) would like to remind teens and adults of the serious and often-underestimated risks associated with smokeless tobacco.

"Young adults and adolescents are the ones most likely to erroneously believe that smokeless tobacco is less dangerous," said Dr. David Tecosky, a PDA member dentist from Philadelphia. "Basically due to their lack of education on the topic."

Smokeless tobacco, also known as chew or dip, is produced in the forms of chewing tobacco and snuff. Snuff is a fine-grain tobacco held in teabag-like pouches that users "pinch" or "dip" between their lower lip and gum. Chewing tobacco comes in shredded, twisted or "bricked" tobacco leaves. Bricked leaves are pressed into small, soft blocks flavored with licorice and sugar.

A user sucks on the tobacco juices, often spitting from saliva buildup. By sucking and chewing, nicotine becomes absorbed into the bloodstream through the tissues in one's mouth.

Smokeless tobacco leads to dependence similar to the way cigarettes will get you hooked, by continued intake of the addictive drug nicotine. However, surprisingly, the amount of nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco is three to four times higher than the amount delivered by a cigarette. Once a person becomes addicted, quitting becomes very difficult. Just as with smoking, withdrawal from chewing tobacco causes symptoms such as depressed and irritable moods, increased appetite and intense cravings.

Less severe, more immediate effects of this habit can be bad breath, yellowish-brown stains on your teeth and mouth sores. However over time, side effects can include cracked, bleeding and receding gums, and eroded tooth enamel due to the coarse particles in tobacco also making your teeth more vulnerable to cavities. Since chewing tobacco contains high amounts of sugar, prolonged use can cause tooth decay and loss.

Additionally, 28 carcinogens have been identified in chewing tobacco and snuff. Users are two to six times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-users. Furthermore, smokeless tobacco consumers actually have a higher risk of developing oral cancer than cigarette smokers.

"Tobacco smoke doesn't linger on soft tissue in the oral cavity whereas smokeless tobacco remains in the mouth in contact with the mucous membranes," said Dr. Tecosky.

Oral cancer can occur in the lips, tongue, floor of the mouth, roof of the mouth, cheeks or gums, leaving permanent disfigurement and physical impairment when amputation is necessary. Cancer from chewing tobacco doesn't just occur in the mouth. Cancer-causing agents in tobacco can enter the lining of the esophagus, stomach and bladder.

If you are already a user there are over-the-counter solutions for quitting. A person can in some measure stave off cravings by using substitutes such as tobacco-free, mint leaf snuff or even something as simple as sugarless gum.

There are prescription drugs that aid in quitting any tobacco products, however these also have the potential to become addictive. These drugs can be given orally, by patch or by spray. They are all prescribed by dentists and physicians.

For more information on other oral health topics, visit PDA's website at padental.

Pennsylvania Dental Association