Recently, Tony Gwynn, one of baseball's superstars, died at age 54 from oral cancer.  If you were lucky enough to see Tony Gwynn play baseball, you were witnessing a rarity. In what is arguably the toughest sports to play, Gwynn had an uncanny eye for the baseball, and no pitcher was safe. The San Diego Padres were a lucky team to have him. He will be missed in the baseball world. Major League Baseball should institute a health advisory and education campaign on the danger and fallout of smokeless tobacco.

However, this is not a baseball blog. By accounts, Tony died of a salivary gland tumor, probably from the wads of chewing tobacco he placed in the pouches of his cheek. When speaking from an oral health care perspective, chronic irritation from tobacco products have shown to be major risk factors for oral cancer. Although tobacco, both lit and smokeless, are two risk factors for oral cancer, there are others. For instance, most people associate smoking with lung cancer and they would be correct. However, people seem surprised by the fact that smoking is a major risk for oral cancer. Alcohol abuse is another common risk for oral cancer.

Teenagers are particularly susceptible to smokeless tobacco marketing and use. Every parent knows that teens think they are invincible, and this an example. Public health efforts to get children as well as adults go only so far, and parents should be super aggressive at educating their children on the ill effects of tobacco use. These products are highly addictive and can be troublesome to part with.

The good news is that with few exceptions, oral cancer is preventable. If one is a smokeless tobacco user, discontinue the habit immediately. If one notices any white patches on their gums or cheeks, see your dentist immediately. Not all white patches are pre-cancerous, but it is best to have your dentist take a look. Early detection of oral cancer can dramatically improve one's prognosis, if diagnosed with oral cancer.

There is a way to address early detection. An oral cancer screening can alert the dentist to any suspect areas. Dr. Partrick performs an oral cancer screening at every examination appointment. Schedule your appointment today if you suspect you are at risk!