Should dentists do more to help smokers quit?

Kacso Sandor

Just about every dentist will say smoking ruins your smile, causing conditions that range from tooth discoloration to gum disease to jaw bone loss and oral cancers. But while it's a well-known fact that cigarettes can do serious damage to your oral health, a new study finds dental professionals often fail to discuss smoking cessation with patients who are smokers.

The paper, which was published online in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finds only 1 in 10 patients who currently smoke has had a conversation with their dentist about quitting.

"Dentists can link oral health conditions with smoking during their conversations with patients, and this could serve as a motivator for patients to quit smoking," Amy Ferektich, a professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University's College of Public Health, told CBS News. "Relative to primary care providers, dentists are understudied with respect to their ability to help patients quit smoking. Hopefully this will change."

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from a number of CDC questionnaires, which involved 5,147 current smokers. Of that number, 3,612 had seen a health care provider in the last year. Around half of the sample were female and most were aged 25 to 64 years old.

The researchers found that 51 percent of current smokers who visited a doctor were advised to quit but only 12 percent of dentists talked to their patients about smoking cessation.

Men over age 45 were most likely to be counseled about quitting compared with other patients. Heavy smokers were more likely than light smokers to receive advice from a dentists about how to quit. Additionally, the study found that patients who got advice from a dental professional about cigarette use tended to be financially better off and have private health insurance.

"This finding suggests that dental professionals, in particular, are missing an opportunity to teach patients the benefits of quitting smoking and the consequences of continued smoking, particularly from an oral health perspective," the authors write in their study. "Previous studies show that smokers are receptive to and even expect to receive tobacco cessation advice from dental workers."

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