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Dentists can have a hand in helping patients quit smoking

November 14, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Smokeout logoNovember 17 is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, an annual observance aimed at motivating smokers to use the date to plan to quit or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.

Dentists can talk with their patients about tobacco abuse, which is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most dentists probably have at least some patients who use or have used tobacco. According to the American Cancer Society, 40 million Americans smoke cigarettes, while other ways to smoke tobacco such as cigar, pipe and hookah, are on the rise.

“Smoking kills people — there’s no ‘safe’ way to use tobacco,” The American Cancer Society says on its website.

Dentists and dental hygienists are in a unique position to address tobacco use with their patients, according to Dr. Scott Tomar, professor and interim chair of the department of community dentistry and behavioral science at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.

“They are more likely than other health care professionals to see young people in the early stages of tobacco use, which provides a teachable moment on its adverse oral health effects,” Dr. Tomar said. “Patients being seen for check-up appointments are particularly receptive to prevention messages. A patient mirror can be a powerful tool in demonstrating the impact of tobacco use.”

Dentists can also counsel their patients who are seeking to quit. This can include establishing connections with group or individual counseling programs in their area to facilitate referrals.
“Dentists do not necessarily need to conduct the counseling themselves,” he said, but added that dental teams can become trained in effective, nonjudgmental approaches to foster behavior change, such as motivational interviewing.

“Dentists can ask their patients for permission to discuss their tobacco use and ask their patients how tobacco fits into their lives,” Dr. Tomar said. “Our goal is to have patients articulate why they want to quit, and then work with them to move them toward taking action. The beauty of motivational interviewing is that we are not creating an adversarial relationship with our patients by lecturing them and putting them on the defensive, but are working on the same side as our patients and the reasons for quitting are coming from the patients themselves.”

There are other tobacco-related educational resources available to dentists.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers resources for dentists to help patients quit smoking, including videos, fact sheets and handouts.

Dentists can also refer their patients to the ADA’s consumer-friendly website, for information about oral health and tobacco.

The ADA also has brochures that discuss the benefits of quitting smoking. “Tobacco and Oral Health” is available at by searching for product W190. Buyers can save 15 percent on all ADA Catalog items with promo code 16135 until Jan. 13.