How Smokeless Tobacco Affects Your Dental Health

There seems to be a misconception that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking. However, this consumption is wrong. Tobacco has its own set of health risks and effects orally and is not a safe substitute for smoking.


There are two types of smokeless tobacco- snuff and chew. Snuff is finely ground and moist and a person can take a pinch and put it between the lip or cheek and gingiva. Chewing tobacco or more commonly termed “chew” is the most common and can come in a brick or plug or strand and resembles beef jerky. Chewing tobacco is not finely ground and must be crushed with the teeth to release flavor and nicotine.

Ingredients in Smokeless Tobacco

Nicotine is the addictive stimulant drug that is in smokeless tobacco. One pinch of snuff can be placed for thirty minutes and equal as much nicotine as four cigarettes. This means that people using one can of chew a day is equivalent to sixty cigarettes or three packs.

Flavoring is common ingredient in smokeless tobacco. There are different flavors such as mint, cherry, peach, apple and other salts and sweeteners. Abrasives such as sand and dirt are also prevalent in these products because it cannot be completely filtered out.

Health Consequences

Smokeless tobacco has two times as much nicotine as a cigarette and the delivery is more addictive. Nicotine is absorbed more quickly through the mucosa. It also raises blood pressure and can cause cardiovascular problems. This happens because the nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict which can lead to a heart attack. Also, the blood vessels have a lining around them which can become blistered and slough off which will clog the blood vessel.

Oral Consequences

Tooth abrasion is a big problem with people who use smokeless tobacco. Abrasion is the loss of tooth structure by mechanical forces from a foreign object. The foreign object that causes the wearing away of the tooth surface are the grit and sand found in the tobacco products. Abrasion commonly causes sensitivity as the outer surfaces of the teeth are being worn away.

Recession of the gingiva/gums is another common problem because of the constant irritation of a localized area in the mouth. Recession of bone can also occur if usage is often enough and this loss of tissue and bone will ultimately cause the tooth socket to wear down and not support the tooth anymore. This may cause the tooth to become loose or fall out.

Tooth Decay is increased because of the added sugars being placed in the product to improve its taste. The sugar is eaten by the bacteria found in the mouth and an acid by-product is made causing the formation of a cavity.

Oral Cancers can also occur in people that use tobacco products. A common condition called leukoplakia appears and is described as a patchy, leathery, wrinkled area of skin and is found to turn into cancer in many cases.

Warning Signs: Things to look for that may indicate early symptoms of cancer

  • a sore that does not heal
  • a lump or white patch
  • a prolonged sore throat
  • restricted movement of the jaw or tongue
  • a feeling of something in the throat

Chewing tobacco, spit, chew, snuff, dip, pinch-call it whatever, but don’t call it harmless. Ask your dental hygienist about programs, handouts, and other information about tobacco cessation at your next visit.

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