Oral Health Group

Smoke Got in My Eyes

June 1, 2003
by Catherine Wilson, Editor

Millions of people attend thousands of trade shows covering hundreds of topics at venues around the world. Some of these venues are as well known as the events they stage. One such venue is Koln-Messe in Cologne, Germany. I’ve been to Cologne five times now, four visits to a food industry event and recently to my first IDS — a superb show, beautifully produced and well attended in spite of world turmoil.

The only problem — I couldn’t see some exhibitors through the cigarette smoke. The thick blue haze clouded those ‘Chicklet white’ smiles. Do you see the irony of a major international dental trade show shrouded in tobacco smoke? Inside the building? At the booths? Vendors espousing the virtues of the latest dental technology while taking a long drag?


Tobacco is connected to 90 percent of oral cancers. Only 50 percent of oral cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis. More than one million kids use ‘spit tobacco’ in the mistaken belief it’s safer than smoking.

Tobacco use drains the North American economy of more than US$100 billion in health care costs and lost productivity. This doesn’t include costs associated with diseases caused by environmental tobacco smoke, burn care resulting from cigarette smoking-related fires, or perinatal care for low birth weight infants of mothers who smoke. In Asia, oropharyngeal cancer is the leading cancer in men, and in Africa and Asia it is the third most frequent cancer in women.

The National Cancer Institute says that were it not for tobacco use, oral cancer would be almost nonexistent as a cause of death. Oral cancer, the sixth most common cancer in the world, can develop in any part of the mouth, most commonly on the lips, tongue, roof or floor of the mouth, pharynx or esophagus. Pipe smokers are particularly prone to cancer of the lip.

In a report entitled, “Preparing for Change in the 21st Century,” Dr. Harold Slavkin, Director, National Institute of Dental Research, stated: “with enormous humility, we need to acknowledge that there has been essentially little or no improvement in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of these cancers during the last 48 years.”

All of this at a time of blistering evolution in dental care — when companies are tripping over themselves to get their trays, strips and swabs to market. Tooth-whitening is the hottest issue in cosmetic dentistry and cosmetic dentistry is the hottest specialty in the profession. Consumers are spending US$13 billion a year on ‘professional’ whitening procedures and US$700 million on pastes and gels.

The dental community is the first line of defense in the early detection of oral cancer. And the dental community needs to assume a leadership role if oral cancer is to be brought down from its high ranking as a killer. At the very least, ban smoking from all international dental events. Now that would be truly dazzling.

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