Dental hygienists can take an active part in helping their patients quit chewing tobacco, a new study conducted by Oregon Research Institute scientists shows.
In the study, quit rates tripled among the snuff and chewing tobacco users who received cessation intervention from their dental hygienists compared to patients who got only usual care.
"More than half of all tobacco users see a dentist at least once a year, and this visit represents a 'teachable moment' that dental hygienists can use to connect the patient's oral health problems to tobacco use," says Judy A. Andrews, Ph.D., a co-investigator of the study. "Patients are more receptive to getting tobacco cessation advice as they face up to the mouth sores, bleeding gums and receding gums that are typically associated with smokeless tobacco use."
Smokeless tobacco has been strongly linked with cancer of the mouth and increased risk of cancer of the vocal chords, "windpipe" and upper parts of the digestive canal (i.e., larynx and esophagus) and the stomach.
"This study shows that giving patients something tangible that reinforces the hygienist's message that smokeless tobacco use has harmful oral effects gives them the means to follow through with their quit attempt," says Andrews. The results of the study appear in the current issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
The scientists developed a three-hour workshop for dental hygienists to help their patients who use smokeless tobacco quit their habit. The workshop also trains them in step-by-step counseling techniques for talking with patients about quitting tobacco. As part of the protocol, smokeless tobacco users are given a manual and a video for self-study.
The scientists enrolled 633 smokeless tobacco users for their study from an initial group of about 35,000 dental patients. Almost 99 percent were male and on average they were using chewing tobacco or snuff six days a week, consuming a tin in 4.5 days.