Castlnau Dentists

Smokeless Tobacco and the Risks of Mouth Cancer


What is smokeless tobacco?

There are two main types of smokeless tobacco: chewing tobacco and snus.

Chewing tobacco usually comes as leaves or plugs which you put on the inside of your cheek and chew. Chewing the tobacco releases the flavours and nicotine and causes your mouth to make a lot of saliva. Users generally end up spitting this out. Snus is tobacco that comes as a moist powder, or is packed in small bags, and you put it under the inside of your bottom lip.

Both types of smokeless tobacco are very addictive and can cause serious health problems.

The ingredients in smokeless tobacco are a mixture of tobacco-nicotine, sugar, salt, slaked lime, spices and flavourings. They may release hundreds of chemicals and poisons when you use them. Among these chemicals are many dangerous cancer-causing agents (called ‘carcinogens').

Is smokeless tobacco linked with mouth cancer?

Yes. Mouth cancer is the most serious health risk linked with smokeless tobacco. This is because of the large amount of cancer-causing chemicals it has in it. Over time, having these poisons released in your mouth could make you four times as likely to get mouth cancer.

One of the most dangerous and popular ingredients used in smokeless tobacco is the areca (or betel) nut. This is used in ‘betel quid' which is made up of betel leaf, areca nut and slaked lime. Research shows that people who regularly chew areca nut have a bigger risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), oesophagus (gullet), stomach and pancreas.

Smokeless tobacco users are especially likely to get throat cancer, as they regularly swallow tobacco juice. Cancers of the lip and cheek are also common, as the tobacco is pressed against the lining of the mouth.

Mouth cancer can appear as:

  • A painless mouth ulcer that does not heal properly.
  • A white or red patch in the mouth.
  • Unusual lumps or swellings.

It is important that you visit your dental team regularly if you use smokeless tobacco. This is because part of your check-up will involve a full mouth examination when the dental team will look out for any of these signs.

Want to know more?

Please visit the Oral Health Foundation website to find out more about smokeless tobacco and the risks of mouth cancer.


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