WVU Dental Clinics combine technology and teaching to help smokers quit
The West Virginia University School of Dentistry’s new intra-oral cameras show smoking’s effects on oral health – helping ensure WVU Dental Clinic patients are as educated about smoking risks as the students serving them.

Recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have placed West Virginia as the national leader for numbers of teen and pregnant smokers.  In fact, West Virginians have the second-highest incidence of smoking in general, trailing only behind Kentucky. 

 WVU dental student Trey Wilcox practices using intra-oral photography on fellow student Valerie Perrine’s mouth.  Intra-oral cameras magnify  images captured from inside of the mouth and display the enlarged photos on a computer screen, as shown here.   “When I ask most of my patients if they want to quit smoking, they’ll flat-out say, ‘no,’” Trey Wilcox, third-year WVU dental student, said.  “As healthcare providers, we have to think about what approach we can take to really reach the patients when we talk about not smoking.”

Dental students use a combination of intra-oral cameras and basic handheld mirrors to show smokers the effects of tobacco on their oral health.

"We show smokers before and after pictures when we clean their teeth,” Valerie Perrine, third-year WVU dental student, said.  “I explain to the patients that I can remove their stains now, but if they continue to smoke, those stains will be permanent.  Letting the patient see the damage does far more for that patient than just having me explain the problem.”

But oral health problems extend beyond stained teeth. 

According to Robert Hornbrook, D.D.S, M.S.D, chair of the department of periodontics, smoking leads to an increased likelihood of oral cancer, periodontal disease, bad breath, wrinkles, and healing problems after mouth injury.

If the patient decides to quit smoking, the dental students can help them decide which methods will work best with the patent's lifestyle. Treatment can include everything from nicotine replacement therapies to newer medicines.

“Younger patients look at us as role models,” Wilcox said.  “With older patients it’s more of a challenge because they tend to view dental students as kids telling them to stop smoking.  We don’t lecture the patients.  But if they’re interested in quitting we explain that they could have long lives ahead of them if they stop smoking.”

WVU dentists and dental students utilize a five-part method for presenting smoking cessation options to patients.  The method is consistent with strategies produced by the National Cancer Institute, the American Medical Association, and others.  The five-part strategy includes: ask the patient about their tobacco use, advise them to quit, assess their willingness to quit, assist them in quitting and arrange a follow up session.

“Often times, patients will agree to listen to our pitch,” said Susan Morgan, D.D.S., departments of periodontics and endodontics associate professor.  “But it’s rare that they have an immediate change of heart.  Often, they’ll call the clinic a few days after their appointment and tell us they’ve thought about it and are ready to try to quit smoking.”

Dr. Morgan said most patients are reluctant to try smoking cessation because of the costs associated with treatments.

"Smokers spend an average of $3.25 to $3.75 for a pack of cigarettes,” Morgan said.  "Someone who smokes a pack a day spends something like $1200 a year on tobacco. Yet they're worried about spending $130 on a smoking cessation product. Think how much money they would save in the long run if they stopped smoking, not to mention the health benefits if they quit." 

The School of Dentistry also refers patients to the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, a telephone service where highly trained, certified coaches help participants quit tobacco through individual phone coaching.

“Learning the smoking cessation techniques to teach to our patients goes above and beyond what I expected to learn in a clinical setting,” Perrine said.  “Dr. Morgan makes us aware of every means available to help improve patients’ oral health.  In turn, we can pass that knowledge along to our patients.”

Smokers interested in quitting can call the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline at 1-877-966-8784.   For more information on the WVU School of Dentistry visit www.hsc.wvu.edu/sod/ or call (304) 293-6208 to schedule an appointment.

- WVU -

For more information:
Cassie Waugh, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087
cw: 10-29-07

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