Consequences of tobacco use

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- When you visit the 354th Dental Clinic for your annual exam, we are obviously interested in the condition of your teeth and gums. However, there is more to your dental exam than us asking, "How often do you floss?"

It may surprise you to learn that you also receive a comprehensive oral cancer screening during your examination.

Do these questions sound familiar? "Do you use tobacco and are you interested in quitting?"

The reason we ask these questions is because we care about you, our patient.
The nicotine in cigarettes and chewing tobacco is highly addictive, and has tobacco users reaching for their packs of cigarettes and cans of chew.

The health concerns related to tobacco use are real. As hard as it may seem to quit, you can do it! The Air Force has programs available to you to help curb the habit.

Why should you quit? It is the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you.
Abandoning the habit will significantly decrease the risk of many health problems including oral cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, eight out of 10 people with oral cancer and oropharyngeal cancers use tobacco.

The risk of developing these cancers is related to how much and how long they have smoked or chewed. Tobacco use also increases your risk of having gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss and sensitivity.

Smoking results in delayed healing after a tooth extraction or other oral surgery. Smoking limits the options for some kinds of dental care such as implants. Smoking also causes bad breath, stained teeth and tongue, and diminishes your sense of taste and smell.

Like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products contain a variety of toxins associated with cancer. At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in smokeless tobacco products.

Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue and pancreas. Users may also be at risk for cancer of the voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder, because they swallow some of the toxins in the juice created by using smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco can irritate your gum tissue, causing periodontal disease. Sugar is often added to enhance the flavor of smokeless tobacco, increasing the risk for tooth decay. Smokeless tobacco also typically contains sand and grit, which can wear down your teeth.

On top of all that, think of all the money that could be saved by quitting smoking or dipping.

Here are some signs and symptoms that could indicate oral cancer:

1) Irritation, tenderness and burning or a sore that will not heal

2) Pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or lips

3) Development of a lump, or a leathery, wrinkled or bumpy patch inside your mouth; color changes to your oral soft tissues of gray, red or white spots or patches, rather than a healthy pink color

4) Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue

5) Any change in the way your teeth fit together

See your dentist or physician if you notice any of these changes.

The Health and Wellness Center is available to help you quit. To contact the HAWC, call 377-WELL (9355). There are also many resources online, or at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. We hope you are successful in quitting tobacco and we look forward to celebrating that victory with you!