World No Tobacco Day and the role of Dental Hygienists in Tobacco Cessation


Every May 31st is “World No Tobacco Day” (WNTD). The World Health Organization (WHO) proclaims this day each year to highlight the health and other risks associated with tobacco use. As primary health care providers, dental hygienists are well aware of the broad health implications associated with tobacco use.  Each year more than 7 million deaths are as a direct result of tobacco use. According to WHO, this number will grow in excess of 8 million by 2030 without concerted action and effort (source: WHO). While tobacco can be used in many forms of course, one of the most common is cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in Canada and accounts for 90% of all lung cancer deaths as well as roughly 80% of deaths caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Smokers are also at increased risk of suffering from heart disease, stroke, and increased health care utilization. (Source: CDC).

None of this is news to health care providers, yet millions of people continue to smoke and start smoking each year. The public is also better informed today than ever on the dangers of cigarette smoke.  Graphic labels, warnings and no shortage of literature highlighting the dangers of smoking are readily available. So if the public won’t listen to their GPs, what recourse could dental hygienists have in helping people quit?  The answer is simple, lots and by virtue of what we do, we have the ability to highlight other areas of physical concern that our patients may be less aware of.

Those who smoke and/or use tobacco are more likely to quit if they receive an anti-tobacco/smoking message from a variety of health care providers. As noted, people are quite aware of the cardiovascular and cancer causing properties of tobacco but may not be as aware of the oral health implications. Dental hygienists are in the unique position to contribute to the fight against tobacco use by helping people understand that chronic tobacco use can lead to periodontal disease, tooth loss and an increased risk of implant failure. The fact is that smokers have seven times the incidence of gum disease, a leading cause of tooth loss, than non-smokers.   When “asked if they are aware of the greatest reason for adult tooth loss, patients often incorrectly reply, “old age”, as opposed to the correct answer- tobacco use. (Source: “Tobacco Cessation with a Twist” by Karen Davis RDH, BSDH).

Dental hygienists are often the most regular of health care providers someone may see.  Visiting the doctor’s office can be scary, especially if someone feels it may lead to a lecture about their tobacco habits, and apart from during a time of illness, most people are less likely to visit the physician more than once each year.  A trip to the dental hygienist, while certainly nerve-wracking for some, is not only a more frequent but a less judgemental health care setting than the doctor’s office may be.  This doesn’t mean that dental hygienists should lecture smokers and create a situation wherein their patient/client feels berated about their smoking habits, rather it allows for the natural relationship that already exists between hygienist and client to evolve into a discussion about motivations for quitting and assistance in providing information about tobacco cessation.

By using non-judgemental and non-confrontational discussions, dental hygienists have the opportunity to help their patients understand why and how tobacco use can impact oral and therefore overall health.  Moreover, cessation resources can be easily provided.  While the path to quitting tobacco use may take someone time, the first step can be easily taken by a dental hygienist who took the time to talk to their patient about why tobacco cessation is important not only from an oral health perspective, but from an overall health point of view.

On this WNTD let’s talk to our patients about the oral health implications that result from tobacco use.  Doing so could help save a life.

Tobacco Cessation Resources: