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Teens, Smokeless Tobacco, and Dental Health

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Six percent of American high schoolers use smokeless tobacco, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If your teen thinks chewing tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes, take a look at how you can help them to understand why it's a seriously unhealthy habit.

Discuss Health Problems

What's the problem with chew? There are many ways to answer this question — and all of them come with serious health consequences. Your teen needs to look at the big picture and understand how smokeless tobacco can negatively affect their health now and in the future.
The primary health-related problems that chewing tobacco can cause include:
  • Cancer. Chewing tobacco is the main culprit behind several different types of cancers. These primarily include cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas.
  • Gum disease. Flossing and regular dental visits can help to reduce the risks of gum disease. But chewing tobacco can minimize these benefits and increase the likelihood of bleeding, sensitive, red, or inflamed gums, along with serious periodontal disease.
  • Oral bone loss. Smokeless tobacco can cause the tissue and bone that surrounds the roots of the teeth to wear away. This can lead to tooth loss.
  • Tooth scratching. Chewing smokeless tobacco products can scratch the tooth's enamel or wear it down.
  • Dental decay. The constant chewing motion and use of smokeless tobacco can change the way your body produces saliva. Without the correct saliva balance, your teen is at a greater risk for plaque development and dental decay.
Along with these health issues, chewing tobacco can also cause other dental problems. These include oral aesthetic issues that your teen won't want to encounter.

Review Aesthetic Issues

Your teen spends what seems like hours in front of the mirror, perfecting their hair and making sure that they're wearing the coolest clothes. When it comes to their smile, bright pearly whites are always in vogue.
You might find it effective to remind your teen that the effects of chewing tobacco are evident every time they smile. These include:
  • Discoloration. Consistently chewing tobacco can turn would-be white teeth a yellowish or brownish color. While teeth whitening products and procedures can correct this issue, future tobacco use will re-stain the teeth.
  • Worn enamel. Yellow teeth aren’t always a product of staining. As smokeless tobacco wears away the white enamel, it exposes the yellow dentin beneath, creating a yellow smile.
  • Leukoplakia. These white patches can appear on inside of cheeks, on the tongue, or on the gums. Not only are these oral lesions an aesthetic issue, but they are also pre-cancerous.
  • Bad breath. Even though this technically isn't an aesthetic issue, it's a problem that could make your teen self-conscious.
If you're teen doesn't understand (or doesn't care about) these issues, show them what their future looks like. Use photos or videos of real dental patients who suffer from smokeless tobacco–related dental staining, decay, and disease to get your point across.

Talk to a Professional

Teens are infamous for not believing their parents. If your adolescent won't listen to you or refuses to engage in a discussion about the perils of chewing tobacco, have your child talk to a professional.
Use your teen's bi-annual dentist visit as an oral education opportunity. Call ahead and explain the situation to the dentist or dental office staff. The dentist can assess any tobacco-related damage and look for signs of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. They can also talk to your teen about the effects of smokeless tobacco, providing detailed information on the dangers of this substance.
Does your teen use smokeless tobacco? Do you want a dental professional to counsel your child on the issues that chewing can cause? Contact Rabel Family Dental for more information.