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Smokeless Tobacco

To Chew or not to Chew:
Is there really any question?

Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless tobacco - dip - snuff - chew: Whatever you call it - it all has the following in common. It is highly addictive, contains nicotine, increases the risk of oral cancers, and it is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

We see many young soldiers who started chewing in their pre-teen or teenage years. It doesn't take long to get hooked. And once you're hooked , it's hard to keep the lid on this addiction. Why do folks start? Some sports players do it. Peer pressure may be a factor. There are several reasons why people start the habit. But of the reasons given, none of them are good. Unfortunately, several athletes have developed mouth cancer and the truth about smokeless tobacco is finally spreading to the public. But once mouth cancer strikes, it too spreads, and it does so rapidly. That is why it is so hard to cure. If not caught right away, major surgery is often necessary to remove the cancer. Because the mouth, jaws, and tongue are so prominent, the surgery is often disfiguring.

What is in chewing tobacco that makes it so bad?

Chewing tobacco contains many harmful ingredients. Nicotine is among these and it is highly addictive. Polonium 210 ( a nuclear waste) is present in small quantities. Formaldehyde and other cancer causing compounds are just some of the ingredients in dip and chew. Just a pinch between gum and cheek doesn't feel like cancer. Or will it? The toxic chemicals will cause white, wrinkled skin patches inside your mouth in the area the chew is held. This is called snuff dipper's keratosis or hyperkeratosis. As time goes on, early pre-cancerous or cancerous changes may occur in the cells in this area.


White, wrinkled patches on the inside of the lip
caused by smokeless tobacco - Hyperkeratosis

What are the warning signs for oral cancer?

* a sore that bleeds easily and does not heal

* a lump or thickening in your mouth or neck

* soreness and/or swelling that doesn't go away

* a red or white patch that doesn't go away

*a feeling of something in the throat

Check your mouth often if you do chew and look closely where you hold the tobacco. Pain is rarely an early symptom. See your dentist or physician right away is you notice any of the above warning signs. Remember, mouth cancer has the best chance of a cure when it is caught early.

Besides cancer, what else can smokeless tobacco cause?

* Gum recession - the constant irritation of the tobacco to the gum causes recession which exposes the root surface of teeth leaving teeth sensitive to hot and cold.

* Increased tooth decay - Sugars added to smokeless tobacco in addition to the exposed root surfaces greatly increase the chance of dental decay in these areas.

* Tooth discoloration and bad breath - No need to explain this one. Everyone notices it.

If I want to quit, is there help available?

Yes. Free guides and quitting advice is available from the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER. In the military, the dentist or physician can refer you to appropriate departments such as the preventive medicine department which operates several programs for those wanting to quit. Take the first step in ending this harmful habit and take the first important step towards Dental Health & Wellness.