Oral Cancer can give someone quite the mouthful... Pat Graves, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton Tobacco Cessation counselor, shares a mock model of how dangerous and destructive tobacco products, specifically smokeless tobacco, can be to someone's health and well-being with Dental department staff at NMRTU Bangor on Feb. 24, 2022, the annual recognition date for the Great American Spitout, a campaign designed to foster awareness and consideration among users to quit their spit, at least one chew at a time.


Through with the chew?

The annual Great American Spitout, Feb. 24 is an ideal reminder to help start the process.

Ready to quit the spit?

Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton’s Tobacco Cessation counselor, along with the Dental/Oral Surgery team are here to help.

Had enough of the snuff?

Patrick Graves, NMRTC Bremerton’s Tobacco Cessation counselor advocates that the benefits far outweigh the risks when it comes to quitting a habit like smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco is really a super concentrated form of nicotine, equal to 3.5 packs of cigarettes.

“That makes it all the more addictive,” Graves said, citing compiled Department of Defense statistics that show chewing tobacco is used by almost one in five 18- to 24-year-old military males, approximately 19 percent, almost twice the national average. “Dip is not a safe alternative to smoking because the body absorbs 3-4 times more nicotine, making it potentially more addictive than cigarettes.”

“Which is hard to conceptualize as a 20-something year old Sailor or Marine who thinks they’re almost indestructible,” continued Graves. “Cancer is the big scare, but often overlooked is the lung disorders, cardiovascular diseases and others which take place.

People who use smokeless and other tobacco products have heard such talk before. Who doesn’t know the dangers of nicotine? So what are the benefits for someone to forgo their smokeless tobacco?

Graves affirms that quitting smokeless tobacco can positively impact any former-user physically with improved hygienic changes of brighter teeth and fresher breath, and professionally by improving their readiness with increased endurance due to better lung capacity, less injuries and less time off due to illness. Quitting can even enhance night vision.

There’s also a financial incentive.

“Cigarettes are about ten bucks a pack, and dip is not inexpensive either,” Graves said.

Quitting can save a smokeless tobacco user money. The Department of Defense cost savings calculator can show a person just how much of their money is basically going up in smoke.

“If there is a person out there who is using dip and/or smoking and is thinking about quitting, now is the best time. If they are experiencing symptoms like high blood pressure, recurring cough, and/or shortness of breath, then they need to ask themselves what they’re waiting for. If they are holding out for some worst-case scenario, it’s already happening. Chewing tobacco is subtle,” Graves said.

Graves is a staunch believer – and supporter - that anyone can stop using smokeless tobacco. It’s not easy. It takes an average of four to seven times just to attempt to quit, to quit. It’s taking on an addictive substance which does not like to be told what to do. There are available tools – patches, gum, lozenges - as well as medication. He suggests that a user make a detailed plan for quitting, including such helpful pointers as:

• Write down your reasons for quitting and keep them on hand at all times. A good tip is to consider keeping them in the pocket that was used to store a can of chew.

• Pick a date and work backwards to get that start date. It is recommended that a user begin to taper tobacco use two to four weeks prior to the actual tobacco-free date.

• Identify what triggers using any tobacco product, and how can a user quitting the habit cope when the craving hits.

• Enlist the help of family and friends for support.

• Try replacing smokeless tobacco with a healthy alternative, such as sunflower seeds, toothpicks or sugar-free gum/candy.

• Change up the routine. If a user chewed/dipped during the morning commute, then take a different route or ask a friend to carpool.

If there’s a front line in the ongoing struggle to deal with the impact of smokeless tobacco, the Navy Dental Corps is helping to lead the charge for change on the chew. Dental services at Naval Hospital Bremerton and associated clinics located at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor and Naval Station Everett are proactive in educating and reminding those they care for on the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco.

“Our dental community colleagues tend to see the impact of what chewing tobacco can do a lot earlier that I,” said Graves. “They are really good at recognizing early warning signs such as a pre-cancerous lesion. When a dentist, hygienist or technician says to a patient, ‘that looks bad,’ that patient tends to listen.”

During every annual dental checkup for an active duty member, the teeth as well as oral soft tissue are examined. The thorough screening can detect any of those potential pre-cancerous lesions before they become a problem. Tooth decay and gum recession can also be identified and treated at early stages.

There are other tell-tale signs for a dentist to see during an exam of someone who uses smokeless tobacco products. There might be tenderness, burning, or sore throat irritation. There can be numbness or sensitivity anywhere in the mouth or lips, development of a lump inside the mouth, color changes to oral soft tissues, difficulty with chewing, swallowing, speaking, or moving the tongue or jaw, or any changes in the way the teeth fit together.

Smokeless tobacco also breaks down gum lines, stains teeth, and is a prime source of halitosis/bad breath.

“If the measuring stick for a person is that they will quit is if they get a pre-cancerous lesion, they might have already lost the battle,” added Graves. “If anyone who chews begins to notice that they have a white patch in their mouth or receding gum lines, they need to contact their dentist immediately.”

Graves encourages anyone who is thinking of quitting cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to contact their primary care doctor, unit/ship/boat corpsman. He can also be reached at (360) 475-4818, or at noon every Friday at the Bangor clinic.

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