Tobacco is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing 480,000 users each year. Over 15% of adults and nearly 20% of youth in the US are current tobacco users, and 2 in 5 children are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke.
Smoking, use of smokeless tobacco products, and exposure to secondhand smoke all have significant impacts on oral health. Tobacco users are at higher risk of oral cancers, periodontal disease, and tooth loss. Children exposed to tobacco smoke have higher rates of dental caries. The dental visit is an important opportunity to screen for tobacco use and exposure and deliver a consistent message about cessation and protecting children and families from tobacco exposure.
As dental professionals, we play a critically important role. Pediatric and adult dental care visits offer an opportunity to identify tobacco use and exposure, support cessation attempts, and help smokers protect their children and families from harmful exposure. Dental professionals should screen for tobacco use and exposure during dental visits and provide appropriate counseling and resources to tobacco users, and screening and counseling can be delivered in as little as 1-3 minutes.
Most people who use tobacco – including cigarettes, e-cigarette (vaping) devices or chewing tobacco – started as teenagers. That’s why it is important to protect children early in life from exposure to tobacco products.
Some behaviors are good, like brushing teeth twice a day. Other behaviors, like smoking, can start a lifetime of addiction. It’s just better if we never start.