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Whether You Smoke It or Chew It, Tobacco Destroys Teeth

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Whether You Smoke It or Chew It, Tobacco Destroys Teeth

May 15, 2014

Gum recession, cavities, and cancer: tobacco has serious effects on oral health. Dr. Bryce Williams discusses the negative effects of tobacco on the mouth, and why oral cancer isn’t always in plain sight. He also talks about other lesser-known bad habits that contribute to poor dental health.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to the Scope.

Interviewer: Dr. Bryce Williams is an oral surgeon at the University of Utah Hospital. As an oral surgeon, tell me about the effects of smoking and chewing tobacco on the teeth.

Dr. Bryce Williams: That's a good question. Smoking for the oral cavity causes a lot of different changes. Primarily, it causes a dry mouth. Not having that saliva in there to protect your teeth and your gums will cause a plaque build-up on the teeth and then slowly over time you can get cavities in your teeth that cause infection and need to be removed. The other obvious changes that happen with smoking in particular are the risks of getting oral cancer. Sometimes it doesn't always show up in the obvious place. It can kind of hide behind the tongue or further down the throat. It can make it very tricky for the otolaryngologist or the oral surgeon to find those areas of concern. With chewing tobacco, there's not necessarily a higher risk of oral cancer with chewing tobacco. That's never been proven. However, chewing tobacco does damage the gums around the teeth. It can cause recession of the gums and damage to the roots of the teeth, which require removal. Sometimes that's very difficult to repair so the teeth have to be removed.

Interviewer: Out of all the things that we're putting in our mouth and that we're doing to ourselves, would you say smoking and chewing tobacco are a couple of the worst things you can do for your teeth?

Dr. Bryce Williams: I think smoking and chewing tobacco are definitely terrible for the world cavity. Something else that's not typically thought of as been awful for the mouth are sweets and those kinds of things. Especially suckers and lozenges that have sugar in them. Those can have similar effects to chewing tobacco, causing recession of the gums and cavities in the teeth. Those work kind of slower over time but they can have a devastating effect on the teeth and gums.

Interviewer: Interesting. What about chewing ice? Is that bad for me?

Dr. Bryce Williams: Chewing ice can be bad for you as well, especially if you have a lot of fillings in your mouth. The fillings tend to weaken the teeth. If you take a nice crunch down on a piece of that ice, it can fracture that tooth and then you need some expensive dental work.

Interviewer: What about opening things with your mouth? You know, clamping down on a package of whatever and opening it up. Is that bad? I've heard it is.

Dr. Bryce Williams: It's always impressive to see someone open a bottle with their teeth.

Interviewer: Have you actually seen that?

Dr. Bryce Williams: Many times. I've never seen a tooth actually break.

Interviewer: That doesn't sound smart.

Dr. Bryce Williams: It does not sound smart, no. I'm sure the day will come when I will see someone and I'll give them a talking to.

Interviewer: What about other packaging, like, plastic bags of candy or whatever?

Dr. Bryce Williams: I'd say save your teeth for the food so you'll have your teeth long-termed to chew the food with.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is the Scope. The University of Utah Health Science's Radio.