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Chewing tobacco by any name harms oral health

Feb 20, 2012

Baseball training camps open this week and that means ballplayers may be doing a whole lot of chewing and spitting in stadiums around Florida and Arizona. What better time to remind people of the harmful effects of chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco is known by many names, including oral tobacco, spit or spitting tobacco, dip, chew, and snuff.  Whatever you call it, know this – it is dangerous. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports there are 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco found to cause cancer. The most harmful chemical is called nitrosamines, a series of organic compounds formed during the growing, curing, fermenting and aging of tobacco.

The level of nitrosamines varies by product, but researchers have found that the nitrosamine level is directly related to cancer risks. 

San Diego Padres Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn absolutely believes his 25-plus years of using chewing tobacco led to his oral cancer diagnosis in August, 2010. That followed earlier biopsy scares in 1991 and 2007. When he was positively diagnosed with a malignant tumor in 2010, doctors found that the tumor was wrapped around a nerve that controlled the right side of his face, from his forehead to his right eye, the right side of his mouth and his right cheek.

Because removing the tumor entirely would have left the right side of his face permanently paralyzed, surgeons removed what they could and Gwynn underwent 35 chemotherapy treatments to clear the rest of the growth. Today Gwynn, the baseball coach at San Diego State, chews only gum, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, and that is all that he allows his ballplayers to chew too.

In addition to oral cancer, other possible risks to using smokeless tobacco are:

  • An increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease that could lead to tooth loss and tooth sensitivity
  • Difficulty healing after a dental procedure
  • Staining of the teeth and tongue, as well as bad breath
  • Limited dental care treatment options, such as a dental implant
  • A reduction in oral sensations like tasting and smelling

There is no safe level of tobacco use. Because all tobacco products are harmful and have been proven to cause cancer, the use of all types of tobacco products are strongly discouraged.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Bleacher Report Inc.,

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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