Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of death in society. Fortunately, it is also among the most preventable. Aside from being a sociably undesirable habit, smoking can result in oral cancer, reduce smelling and tasting abilities, compromise recovery after oral surgery, stain the teeth, and increase the risk of contracting periodontal disease. The American Dental Association (ADA) and all pediatric dentists encourage children, adolescents, and adults to abstain from all forms of tobacco use.
Almost all adult smokers have tried smoking before the age of nineteen. In all likelihood, an individual who abstains from smoking throughout the teenage years will never pick up the habit. Therefore, it is essential that parents strongly discourage preadolescent and adolescent tobacco use.
Is smokeless tobacco less dangerous for teens?
Tobacco use in any form brings the oral region into direct contact with carcinogens (cancer causing agents). These carcinogens and other harmful chemicals cause irreparable damage to the child’s oral health.
Parents and teens often mistakenly evaluate smokeless tobacco as the “safer” option. In fact, smokeless tobacco has been proven to deliver a greater concentration of harmful agents into the body, and to be far more addictive. One snuff of tobacco has approximately the same nicotine content as sixty regular cigarettes. In addition, smokeless tobacco causes leukoplakias in the mouth, which are dangerous pre-cancerous lesions.
What are the signs of oral cancer?
Oral cancer can be difficult to detect without the aid of the dentist. In some cases, oral cancer is not noticeable or even painful until its later stages. Parents of tobacco users must be aware of the following symptoms:
- Changes in the way the teeth fit together.
- Difficulty moving the jaw.
- Mouth sores that don’t heal.
- Numbness or tenderness.
- Red or white spots on the cheek, lip, or tongue.
Oral cancer is treatable if caught early. Disfiguring surgery can be avoided by having the child abstain from tobacco use and getting regular preventative dental checkups.
How can I stop my child from using tobacco?
There are several ways to discourage children and adolescents from using tobacco products. First, talking to the child personally about the dangers of tobacco use (or asking the dentist to talk to the child) has proven an effective preventative strategy. Second, parents should lead by example. According to research studies, children of non-smokers are less likely to pick up this dangerous habit. Third, monitor the child closely. If the child will not cooperate, screenings for tobacco can be requested at the dental office.
If you have questions or concerns about your childhood tobacco use, please contact your pediatric dentist.