Anti-smoking Campaign Spotlights Oral Health

***UPDATED: March 25, 2014*** A new scientific article linking secondhand smoke and cavities in children was recently published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.  The authors of the piece examined 15 observational studies on the topic and determined that 10 of them showed a weak to moderate link between secondhand smoke and cavities in the primary teeth of young people, while the other 5 showed a weak link with relation to permanent teeth.  According to a recent Colgate news update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regards dental cavities, or tooth decay, as the most prevalent chronic disease in children ages 6-11 and teens ages 12-19.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that nearly half of all children have cavities.  They are currently trying to reduce this number by 10% by the year 2020.  Treatment by dental professionals has shifted in recent years from reactive, surgical treatment to prevention and medical management, placing a large emphasis on risk factors for the disease.  Identified risk factors include low socioeconomic status, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, low fluoride exposure, and poor or infrequent oral hygiene.  Secondhand smoke may also be added to the list, though more scientific research is necessary to confirm the findings.

In recent years, the appeal of cigarette smoking has dropped a bit and fewer Americans are choosing to smoke.  While this is great news, tobacco use is still the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.  Every year, 440,000 Americans lose their lives to cigarette smoke, with an estimated 49,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke.  In an effort to continue to drive the decline of nicotine users in our country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is launching a public health campaign that is geared towards teens, aged 12-17 years old, with a focus on the cosmetic, oral, and other health consequences of tobacco use, according to a recent American Dental Association (ADA) article.

It isn’t uncommon for teenagers to feel invincible.  If you ask them about the health consequences of using tobacco, most will tell you that it can cause cancer and is known to be fatal.  You would think that this information is enough to keep young people from picking up the dangerous habit.  But it isn’t.  Those who choose to use tobacco products, especially cigarettes, often don’t believe that they will become addicted to the nicotine, and therefore the long-term effects of smoking aren’t going to apply to them.  In an effort to combat this warped way of thinking, the campaign is aiming to target the consequences that teens do care about, their appearances.  Ads that will be seen on TV, online, in print, and on social media outlets, will focus on the following messages:

  • Smoking could cost your teeth
  • See what your smile could look life if you smoke
  • Smoking cigarettes can cause yellow teeth, bad breath, and gum disease
  • If you’re playing with cigarettes, your harming your teeth.
  • Smoking causes gum disease, which could cost you your teeth.
  • Smoking can cause bad breath, may stain teeth and causes gum disease that can lead to tooth loss.

Failing oral health is often the first sign of tobacco abuse, as clearly demonstrated in the messages.  It is the hopes of the campaign organizers that these first signs (bad breath, yellowing teeth, threats of tooth loss, gum disease, etc) will be enough to deter teens from picking up a cigarette.  The audience has been strategically targeted, as 9 out of 10 current adult smokers admit to starting the habit by age 17.  For more information and resources visit the ADA website MouthHealthy.org.

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