Tobacco exposure, whether in the form of chewing tobacco or smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, greatly increases your risk of getting mouth cancer and other mouth diseases. In fact, people who smoke cigarettes are about 5 to 10 times more likely to get mouth (oral) cancer compared to non-smokers. The most common places that mouth cancer occurs include the:

  • floor of the mouth
  • gums
  • tongue

You may not think that chewing tobacco is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products. However, researchers have found at least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco that can cause cancer. Smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco, which comes in the form of loose leaves, twisted ropes, or plugs; and snuff, which is a finely chopped or powdered tobacco. Some of the harmful chemicals found in these products include:

  • nitrosamines, one of the most harmful chemicals in smokeless tobacco
  • polonium-210, a radioactive chemical used in tobacco fertilizer
  • polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Another disease that can affect the gums besides cancer is periodontal (gum) disease. This disease is known in its early stages as gingivitis. Gingivitis is a condition where the gums swell, redden, and bleed because of a build up of bacteria. Although gingivitis can also occur in non-smokers because of poor oral hygiene, the toxic chemicals from tobacco increase your risk of developing this gum disease. Periodontal disease is a more serious infection that leads to pockets forming around the teeth. As these pockets become infected, the body tries to kill off the bacteria, but instead it causes damage to the gums and bone holding the teeth in place. This can eventually lead to tooth loss. Quitting smoking and maintaining good oral hygiene can greatly reduce the chances of gum disease.

By smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco, you're putting your mouth at risk. Smoking is responsible for about half of all deaths from oral cancer. Reduce your risk of cancer and other mouth diseases by quitting smoking and avoiding smokeless tobacco products.