We all know smoking is a habit worth-quitting, and that it causes lung cancer and pre-mature death. That much is common knowledge. You may not know, however, that smoking also doubles one's risk of mouth cancer - the effects of which can be physically and emotionally devastating. So while you help your teen navigate toward a smoking-cessation program, here are a few tips to help ensure their oral health is in check before they reach that honorable milestone. A vigilant oral care routine can allow your dentist to catch pre-cancerous lesions before they pose an increased threat to your child's overall health and life-expectancy.
A Quick Look at the NumbersLet's take a quick look at the numbers. If your teen is a smoker, they're among the 3,000 children under 18 who pick up the habit each year. Until they quit, they're lifetime members in a club that celebrates a life-span 14 years shorter than that of their peers. In addition, they're at greater risk of lung cancer as well as oral cancer of the pharynx, mouth, esophagus, and larynx. Complications from these cancers can cause the loss of one's tongue as well as one's ability to speak -- to name only two of the serious side-effects of smoking. This is serious business.
So, let's start off by saying, you have done the right thing in working with your teen to quit this horrible habit.
Six Oral Care "Musts" For Teen Smokers
- Dental check-ups every three months: Smokers require an increased screening regimen to identify pre-cancerous lesions, as well as to identify early-advanced gum disease. Professional cleanings are also recommended at this interval.
- Purchase and use an ultrasonic toothbrush: Many smokers also have poor hygiene routines - an electronic toothbrush used twice a day, can actually be fun (believe it or not), and can help to keep your teen's gums healthy while they're quitting.
- Floss every day: An automatic flosser by Waterpik can be a great tool in your teen's oral care arsenal if they're not fans of flossing in the traditional manner.
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash: Mouthwash helps keep the mouth clean and kills bacteria when it contains an antibacterial agent such as BreathRX. As an aside, research suggests that smokers who also drink alcohol are at even greater risk of oral cancer. The two habits when paired together seem to be great enablers to cancer cells.
- Be self-aware: It's a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of oral cancer regardless of whether one smokes.
- Look for potential signs of oral cancer: Any and all sores that develop in the region of your teen’s neck, face, lips or mouth that fail to heal within a period of two weeks, should be brought to the attention of a doctor. Also, any bleeding in the mouth that occurs frequently, or any pain, numbness, or loss of sensation experienced anywhere in the mouth.
Tips To Aid in Quitting
- Text Their Way To Quitting! Teens love their phones, and love to text, this program developed by the government can keep them on the right track. Check it out at: http://smokefree.gov/smokefreetxt/
- Exercise more: Even 20 minutes a day has been shown to reduce the craving to smoke.
- Brush after meals: It appears as though the psychological effect of having a "clean mouth" helps smokers quit by causing them to not want to "dirty it" with a cigarette.
- Outline the cost savings: Teens want to have money to buy clothes and go to concerts, and do whatever they please … sometimes just doing the math for them helps illustrate how expensive the habit.
- Explain how quitting helps them remain active: Most teens actually enjoy the idea of being active, no matter how limited that experience may be. Getting them to think in terms of a more active life can help them see the benefits of quitting. If your teen is an athlete, this can be a particularly easy sell.
Even More Tips: Try The American Cancer Society's "5 Ds"
- Delay: The craving will go away with time.
- Deep breath: Take a few calming deep breaths.
- Drink water: It will help flush out the chemicals.
- Do something else: Find a new, healthy habit.
- Discuss: Talk about your thoughts and feelings