Impact on Oral Health
Tobacco use is associated with many oral pathologies including cleft lip and palate formation, dental caries, periodontal diseases, implant failure, nicotinic stomatitis, leukoplakia, and life threatening oral and oropharyngeal cancer.
There is a higher incidence of dental caries seen in those using tobacco products as there is an increased acidity seen in the oral cavity and a decreased buffering capacity of the saliva.8
To quote the 2014 Surgeon General’s report, “The evidence is sufficient to infer a causal relationship between smoking and periodontitis.”2 This was highlighted by Tomar and Asma, when they showed that 52.8% (8.1 million people) of periodontitis in the US population was attributable to current and former smokers.31 In addition, it was also demonstrated that quitting smoking reduced the risk of periodontitis.8,34
Leukoplakia occurs six times more frequently in smokers than non-smokers. It also has been shown that over 40% of smokeless tobacco users exhibit a lesion where the tobacco is held. Given the unpredictability of benign leukoplakia changing to a malignancy, these lesions must be carefully assessed.2,8
The American Cancer Society estimates that 49,670 people will get oral and oropharyngeal cancer in 2017, with 9,700 dying from these cancers, which is most commonly squamous cell carcinoma. The risk of developing oral cancer is much greater in tobacco users than in non-users as approximately 75% of all people getting oral cancer use tobacco. The combination of tobacco and alcohol use increases the odds even further.2,8
Given the dire consequences of developing oral cancer, it is incumbent upon dental professionals to discuss tobacco’s role in causing this disease and through tobacco cessation prevent oral cancer from occurring.