Tobacco Use and Oral Cancer

April 13, 2018


April is Oral Cancer Awareness month, so it only seems right that we talk about  the risks that tobacco users face of developing oral cancer. Risks come from not only cigarettes but chewing tobacco as well. Using these products highly increases an individual’s chance of developing oral or throat cancer. Studies have shown that smokers are 3 times more likely to develop mouth cancer and 7 times more likely to develop throat cancer than non-smokers. Each year, The Oral Cancer Foundation approximates 48,250 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed and that 9,575 people die each year due to these forms of cancer. Tobacco use alone is an increased risk, but the use of tobacco with excess alcohol consumption is one of the largest risk factors for oral cancer.

People who do use tobacco should be educated on the early signs of oral cancer. This can help a tobacco user have a greater chance of early detection. Some early symptoms are sores or areas of discoloration on the tongue, gums, throat, or other oral tissues. If you notice a discoloration that persists for several days, or a sore that bleeds easily and is not healing, it should be mentioned to your oral health care provider. While certain red or white patches may have causes other than oral cancer, anything you notice out of the ordinary should be examined by your dentist. The symptoms of throat cancer are not always easily spotted, such as a constant sore throat, a hoarse voice or trouble swallowing. If you have any of these symptoms and they are persistent, then an appointment with your dentist should be made to evaluate the area or symptoms.

Cancer is just one of the negative consequences of tobacco use, so that raises the question of why are people still smoking? The biggest reason is Nicotine, the addictive agent contained in both cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Nicotine affects the brain and nervous system and can cause feelings of euphoria. It can also cause the body to release endorphins creating a calming effect.The body begins to build a tolerance for nicotine after 1 use, which is why people become so easily dependent upon it. They must increase their nicotine consumption in order to maintain the effects and prevent withdrawal.  

Symptoms of withdrawal can be intense, which can make it even harder for the user to quit. We see patients frequently that quit smoking just to replace it with chewing tobacco. A common misconception is that smokeless tobacco is safer than cigarettes, but it contains twice as much nicotine as the average cigarette and increases your risk of oral cancer by 4 times.   

If you are currently a tobacco user it is of utmost importance to be diligent about looking for symptoms. Self oral assessments, as well as keeping up with regular oral check-ups will help us with early detection. At Dental Care of Vashon oral cancer screenings are a part of our exam protocol and tissues are evaluated at each hygiene visit. If you’re interested in quitting tobacco products, speak with your dentist or hygienist as we can offer alternative therapy options and support. If you ever notice a lesion or sore that will not heal, please contact us right away!



“Risk Factors”

“Tobacco Connection”

“Oral Cancer Signs and Symptoms”

“Tobacco and Addiction”


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