The recent death of Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn illustrates the extreme toll using smokeless tobacco can take on your health. Gwynn died at age 54 of complications from salivary gland cancer. He blamed the cancer on his 20-year smokeless tobacco habit.
Smokeless tobacco comes in two main forms: chewing tobacco and snuff. Chewing tobacco is referred to as a wad, chew or plug. It is placed between the cheek and gum or teeth and the nicotine is absorbed through the mouth. Users will spit out the excess dark brown saliva, a habit those around them tend to dislike greatly.
Snuff is tobacco that is ground into a fine powder. Moist snuff is used in a small amount – also called a quid, lipper, pinch or dip – between the cheek and gums, much like chewing tobacco, although the amount is small and designed to be used spit free. Snuff is also sold in powdered form, which is inhaled.
Although death from mouth cancer is certainly a risk with smokeless tobacco, there are other health issues as well. Users can develop an addiction to smokeless tobacco, which is difficult to kick and may lead to smoking cigarettes. You can get leukoplakia, small white lesions in the mouth that can eventually become cancerous.
Other unpleasant side effects include brown or stained teeth, bad breath and cavities. Over time, you can also experience receding gums, gingivitis and even periodontal disease.
Clearly, there are many health consequences of smokeless tobacco. The best precaution against any of these is to stop using smokeless tobacco altogether, but short of that, a trip to the dentist can help spot any problems before they develop into something more serious. Oral cancer screenings also should be a routine part of your regular dental checkups.
Posted on behalf of Dr. Hamir Contractor, Kennesaw Mountain Dental Associates
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