Tobacco Use and Oral Cancer

April 12, 2018

April is Oral Cancer Awareness month, so it only seems fitting that we discuss the increased risk tobacco users face of developing oral cancer. Both cigarettes and chewing tobacco greatly increase 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 combined with excess consumption of alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for oral cancer.

Tobacco users should be aware of early signs of oral cancer to increase the 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. Sometimes these patches are not oral cancer but it is best to check with your doctor so you can rule out any possibility.  With throat cancer, symptoms are not always easily visible, such as a constant sore throat, a hoarse voice or trouble swallowing. If you notice any of these issues persisting, make an appointment with your dentist to have the area evaluated.

Cancer is not the only negative consequence of tobacco use which begs the question, why are people still smoking? The primary reason is Nicotine, the addictive agent contained in both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Nicotine causes the brain and nervous system to experience feelings of euphoria. It can also cause the body to release endorphins creating a calming effect. It only takes one cigarette to become susceptible to nicotine addiction. Once someone forms a dependency on cigarettes, they must increase their nicotine consumption in order to maintain the effects and prevent withdrawal.  Symptoms of withdrawal can be agonizing, thus making it even harder to quit. We see patients frequently who are able to quit smoking but start chewing tobacco instead. 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 a tobacco user of any kind it is important to be diligent in looking for symptoms on your own, as well as maintaining regular oral check-ups. At Hadlock Dental Center 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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