Tobacco and Oral Health

Tobacco is one of the greatest public health challenges the world faces today. Every year over 4.9 million deaths are caused by tobacco. By 2030, unless there are dramatic reductions in tobacco use, that number will rise to 10 million deaths annually. There is overwhelming evidence showing that tobacco use causes many diseases, including stroke; heart attack; chronic bronchitis; chronic cough; asthma; cold; and cancer of the lungs, throat, mouth, stomach, kidney and bladder. Half of all regular smokers die of a condition caused by smoking.

Tobacco related diseases are increasing, especially in the developing countries which are experiencing the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use. It is estimated that tobacco will be the leading cause of death in the world by the third decade of this century, causing more deaths than HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, automobile crashes, homicides and suicides combined.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world today. Prevention is clearly the most cost-effective measure. Tobacco control protects the rights and health of non-smokers, especially babies, children, youth and pregnant women.

The effects of tobacco use on the population's oral health are alarming. The most significant effects of smoking on the oral cavity are: oral cancers and pre-cancers, increased severity and extent of periodontal diseases, as well as poor wound healing. The clear link between oral diseases and tobacco use provides an ideal opportunity for oral health professionals to partake in tobacco control initiatives and cessation programmes.

FDI shares and fully supports the goal of the WHO Oral Health Programme, which is “to ensure that oral health teams and oral health organizations are directly, appropriately and routinely involved in influencing patients and the public to avoid and discontinue the use of all forms of tobacco.”

There are several moral, ethical and practical reasons why oral health professionals should strengthen their contribution to tobacco cessation programmes, for example:

  • They are concerned about the adverse effects in the oropharyngeal region;  
  • They often have access to children, youths and their caregivers, thus providing opportunities to influence these individuals on the dangers of tobacco;  
  • They often have more time with patients than many other clinicians, providing opportunities to integrate education and intervention methods into practice;  
  • They often treat women of childbearing age, and are thus able to inform them about the potential harm to their babies from tobacco use;  
  • They are as effective as other clinicians in helping tobacco users quit and it is known that a multi-disciplinary approach increases cessation rates; and  
  • They can stimulate their smoking patients into quitting by showing the actual effects of tobacco on the mouth.  

Source: World Oral Health Report 2003, WHO,Geneva

Studies have shown that even brief counselling by health professionals on the dangers of smoking and importance of quitting is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing smoking. Smoking cessation improves the health and wellbeing of patients and also improves the outcomes of certain dental treatments. Health professionals shall also lead by example. They should act as role-models for their patients, by ceasing to smoke, and by ensuring their workplaces and public facilities are smoke and tobacco-free.

Helping patients to stop smoking may be the single most important service dentists can provide for their patient's oral and general health.

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