Reducing The Number Of Younger Smokers
Would increasing the age limit for buying cigarettes to 21 improve the nation’s oral health?
A campaign group called Action On Smoking And Health (also known as ASH) (http://ash.org.uk/home/) has called for the age limit for purchasing cigarettes to be increased to 21. It is hoped that by doing this, fewer people will start smoking at all.
Evidence currently suggests that few people actually start smoking after this age and most smokers of 21 or thereabouts had started a few years earlier.
There are a lot of reasons why people smoke and it may be seen as the the “done thing” within the family or peer group. We often have a carefree attitude towards our health when we are young too, as our mortality seems to be a very long way off. Other factors such as advertising and TV personalities and characters that smoke may have an effect too.
What effect would increasing the age have?
At the Clock Tower Dental Clinic in Epsom, we see many cases of oral health issues that have either been caused, or aggravated by smoking. Apart from failure to clean the teeth, it is one of the biggest risk factors for a healthy mouth. From treatable problems like gum disease, to potentially life threatening ones such as mouth cancer, smoking cigarettes is a serious threat to the nation’s oral and general health.
We believe that if the age was increased, we would slowly but surely see the incidence of these problems fall. They would not cease overnight and there are still potential problems such as the illegal sale of black market cigarettes. It could be quite effective though, as can be seen by the big drop in the number of smokers since it was banned in public spaces.
Although we support an increase in the age for buying cigarettes, there is still the problem of those who have only recently started, and this legacy could last for a long time. The government has pledged to eliminate smoking in the UK by 2030. The plan is that tobacco companies will fund attempts to wean smokers off cigarettes but it isn’t hard to see an obvious flaw in that plan however. After all, tobacco companies make their money by encouraging people to smoke!
Although this target is to be admired, it should not result in a let up in the attempt to keep the public informed of the dangers of smoking. That, and a rise in the cost of cigarettes and other smoking materials, may eventually see it more or less eradicated from the UK.
Our dental role
It has been common knowledge for a long time that smoking causes cancer and increases the chances of heart diseases and other medical conditions. It has probably been less well known that it also causes significant harm to your teeth and gums. Although a heart attack is obviously more serious than gum disease, the thought of losing teeth and having to have dentures or an alternative such as dental implants, may well make people think again. Indeed, there is much evidence that periodontal problems actually lead to an increased risk of a number of heart conditions.
The recent increase in the number of TV advertisements promoting anti gum disease toothpastes seems to have led to an awareness of the risk of this issue. As dentists, we can build on this awareness by explaining to our patients the very real risk to their oral health if they continue to smoke. Hopefully, this will add to an increased desire in those who already smoke, to take action to stop doing so.
How can we help?
It is one thing to explain the dangers of smoking to someone who has had the habit for many years, but it is another thing entirely to be able to stop smoking. Nicotine is an incredibly addictive substance that some claim to be more addictive than heroin. For many people, simply stopping smoking is not an option and they may need help in doing so. We are not an anti smoking organisation and any direct help we can provide is limited. Aside from increasing awareness, any dentist that has successfully stopped smoking themselves may offer their own experience about how they managed to do so. This one to one advice may help people to at least take the first steps, and even if the same method does not work for them, it may encourage them to seek out other alternatives.
In addition to the provision of anti smoking information advice that is available in our waiting rooms, we could also include advice on where to seek help, both nationally and any local stop smoking support groups. These are all little things, but, added up as a whole, can make a real difference. It is also true that for each person that stops smoking, it is one less person to influence or encourage another to start.
For certain it will take time to see the benefits of a country without smoking. Over time though, it would be expected that the strain on health services would be significantly reduced, and from a dental perspective, there would be less detection of oral cancers and a reduction in the need for treatment of diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
If you currently smoke, we strongly recommend that you seek help in stopping. If you do smoke, or have recently stopped , it is still important to make sure that you are regularly examined by one of our Epsom dental team so that we can monitor your oral health and provide any necessary treatment.
To book a check up appointment at the Clock Tower Dental Clinic, please call us on 01372 720136.