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Dentists Warn On Smoking Hazards

The New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) has come out strongly on the potential health hazards caused by smoking and aims to assist patients who are smokers.

The NZDA supports the "QUIT NOW" programme, with guidelines for stopping smoking.

"In terms of dental health, smoking not only causes badly stained teeth, significant gum problems and bad breath, it can also lead to oral cancer," the Association says.

The NZ Dental Association has also established a policy on tobacco use. It recommends a smoke-free workplace, recording information about smoking as part of a patient's medical history, checking for oral cancer, providing information on the effects of smoking, and educating patients on the adverse effects of tobacco use.

In addition, the Association is supporting special education programmes - "patient self-help stop-smoking", whereby dentists provide support to their patients who wish to give up. This self- help programme encourages patients to stop tobacco use and keeps them on track through the difficult "giving-up" process. Dr Skegg in Auckland has taken more than 500 dentists in New Zealand through training sessions aimed at helping patients to QUIT.

President of the NZDA, Dr Jeff Annan says the worst case scenario for smokers is oral cancer and this is of special concern to dentists who are the health professionals who regularly examine the oral tissue.

"Dentists are in the best position to detect cases of oral cancer and early knowledge is so important," Dr Annan says. "In New Zealand, about a quarter of the population aged 15 or above smoke cigarettes, and among young women, about one-third are smokers. So, although smoking has declined over the past decade, there is a significant number of people still using tobacco and at risk".

Smoking is known to be a major factor in the more serious forms of gum and periodontal disease, and in causing unsightly stained teeth and bad breath.

"In simple terms, smokers tend to get that 'long in the tooth' look, normally associated with old age. This happens through the shrinking of the gums (a feature of gum disease) caused by the constant use of tobacco. People with this condition have to undergo extensive gum surgery to correct the problem - otherwise they are in danger of losing their teeth," says Dr Annan.

"All in all, not very pleasant, and easily avoided by ceasing smoking." ENDS....

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