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Tobacco Use Wreaks Havoc on Your Mouth

The LHSFNA is continuing our partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Tips from Former Smokers® campaign. This national tobacco education campaign raises awareness about the health issues caused by, associated with or made worse by smoking. It also encourages people to quit smoking and lets them know about free resources available if they want to quit. This campaign is not just for smokers, however. It also encourages non-smokers to protect themselves and their families from exposure to secondhand smoke.

The 2018 Tips campaign shines the spotlight on people who have made the courageous decision to quit and used their experience to benefit others. One of those people is Christine, who was diagnosed with oral cancer in her 40s and at age 55 now has no teeth and only half her jaw. Christine’s story highlights the often overlooked negative effect that smoking has on dental health. You can read more about Christine’s journey, including how she became an advocate for quitting smoking and has managed to stay quit for 11 years, at the CDC’s Tips page.

Oral Health and Tobacco

We know that smoking is bad for our health. It can cause or contribute to cancer, heart disease, stroke, COPD and preterm birth. But have you considered the negative effect it has on your oral health? According to Dr. Larry Williams, “patients that use tobacco have poor healing with [dental] implants, they have stained teeth, they get gum disease, they have more tooth loss, they have receding gingival tissue [gums], they have bad breath.”

There is no safe level of tobacco use, with cigarettes or otherwise. This is a message heard time and time again, but have you heard it from your dentist? Dental professionals are one of many groups that the Tips campaign is working with in the fight against tobacco use.

Dentists and dental hygienists are in a unique position to see the mouth damage caused by tobacco use and talk to their patients about it. The oral health effects from using tobacco are more immediate than in other areas of the body. It is much easier to show a patient the rapid decline of their oral health than the slow decline of their lung or heart health.

“All you have to do is inform them; if the patient isn’t ready to quit, then let them know you’re there to help if they decide to do so,” says Williams. He suggests informing patients in a positive, non-critical manner. This approach can also be effective for concerned family members or friends approaching a loved one about quitting.

Supporting Family Members and Friends

Voicing your concern over a family member or friend’s tobacco use can be challenging and seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider these tips before starting the discussion:

  • Accept that quitting is hard. Having a strong support network will help a smoker quit.
  • Avoid being judgmental or critical of challenges and setbacks on their journey to quit. Offer encouragement each step of the way.
  • Consider your relationship with the smoker. Have you two fought about smoking before? Has the habit caused them to face a health condition?
  • Consider your own experience with smoking. Are you an ex-smoker? Do you have a mutual family member or friend who has quit smoking? Use these connections and background to help the current smoker quit.
  • Ask if they’ve tried to quit in the past and what triggers or cravings they have so you know how to best support them.
  • Listen with an open mind and without your own personal agenda to what they have to say about their tobacco use.

The LHSFNA’s Smokeless Tobacco: Facts and Quitting Tips pamphlet and Tobacco Cessation toolbox talk are two of several publications that can help LIUNA members quit smoking. To order these and other tobacco-related publications, go to and click on Publications.

Share Your Story

If you think you or someone you know would be a good candidate to share your story in the Tips campaign, please call 844-274-9816 or visit

[Emily Smith is the Health Promotion Division’s Senior Benefit & Wellness Specialist.]

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