A Snuff Myth Involving Dental Caries goes up in Smoke

by | Dec 16, 2012 | General Dentistry

Hi everyone!

How myths evolve is always been a mystery.  One such myth reached such nicotinelegendary proportions that a Swedish University doctoral student set out to disprove it.  The belief that people who use nicotine and nicotine-free snus (snuff) have fewer cavities may have been started by the tobacco industry looking to market new products as less harmful than regular cigarettes.  The research, led by Lena Hellqvist, a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg, studied oral health among snus users.

Not to be confused with chewing tobacco, snus is the Swedish word for snuff.  Snus is a Scandinavian form of snuff which is placed under the upper lip. Unlike other forms of smokeless tobacco, this form of snuff does not need to be spit out.   The response to the marketing of smokeless tobacco products has seen countless debates by public health officials in Sweden.  Their main concern is that millions of Swedish smokers may have been “duped” by the myth that these products, while smokeless, do not pose any adverse health threats since they’re marketed to be less harmful.

According to the findings of this recent study, Swedish snus with nicotine does is alkaline and increases oral pH levels which reduces oral acids.  But, there was no clinical evidence that revealed that snus users had fewer caries.  It was also revealed that nicotine-free snus products contain up to 26 percent starch and 6.5 percent carbohydrates.  Since both carbohydrates and starches break down into sugars, it appears that nicotine-free snus users are at risk for an increase instead of a decrease in dental caries.

Carbs and Starches Increase Dental Caries

Consider the numerous studies conducted by the New York University Dental Center which tracked the staying power of food particles on teeth.  Cooked starches, like potato chips and crackers were found to cling to teeth far longer than the sugar from sweet treats.  The longer these carbohydrates clung to the surface of the teeth, the more opportunity the particles have to turn into sugars.  Left on the surface of the teeth, the sugars nourish the bacteria that form the film we call plaque.

The study also uncovered key trends, such as the decreasing number of tobacco users over the last twenty years vs. an increase in snus users within the same time period.   Data also revealed that neither income nor education level was a factor in the increase of the number of snus users.  Tobacco use was also found to be more common among single men than men who had partners.

Here in the U.S., chewing tobacco or snuff has definitely been linked to dental carries since 1999 according to a press release issued by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.  It is also noteworthy that a CDC-NIH (Centers for Disease Control – National Institutes of Health) collaborative study identified chewing tobacco, also commonly referred to as “chaw,” as a risk factor for gum recession and especially oral cancer. It appears that regardless of what tobacco companies would like us to believe, there is no such thing as a “safe” tobacco product.  So it appears that the idea of snuff reducing tooth decay is nothing more than an urban legend!

Call us at Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGDat 248-356-8790  for more information.

Until next time,

Dr. Mark W. Langberg, DDS, MAGD
26206 West 12 Mile Road, Suite 303
Southfield, MI 48034