Cathy Tigges, D.D.S., showed students at Kuemper elementary the effects that smoking can have on your mouth. She taught students about the carcinogens found in cigarettes and chewing tobacco. She explained what kind of diseases can come from Nicotene and how they are treated. <span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>Daily Times Herald photo by Paige Godden</em></span>
Cathy Tigges, D.D.S., showed students at Kuemper elementary the effects that smoking can have on your mouth. She taught students about the carcinogens found in cigarettes and chewing tobacco. She explained what kind of diseases can come from Nicotene and how they are treated. Daily Times Herald photo by Paige Godden
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Students at Kuemper Catholic Schools’ St. Angela Center heard on Monday how surgeons scrape out cancerous cells from inside of the cheek of a person who chewed tobacco.

It was one of a litany of examples that Dr. Cathy Tigges, a local dentist, used to show the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco. She showed students pictures of the different stages of mouth cancers, which can come from using tobacco or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Cigarette smoking causes about 443,000 deaths annually in the United States — 20 percent of deaths in the country — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tigges said it’s obvious to a dentist when a person smokes or chews tobacco — she can usually smell the odor of smoke coming out of their lungs, and people who chew tobacco often have inflamed gums and chunks of tobacco and sometimes discoloration on their teeth.

Sometimes the discoloration means cancer. The cancer makes spots inside the mouth look white instead of pink.

Tigges said mouth cancer spreads fast because of all the blood vessels and nerves in cheeks. The typical treatment is tumor removal, which means a surgeon must make an incision from behind the ear to the middle of the neck and pull the skin up and then scrape as many of the cancerous cells out of the cheek as possible.

The procedure sometimes removes bone and muscle inside of the face, which can leave people disfigured.

Tigges warned students that this kind of surgery — as a direct effect of chewing tobacco — has happened to people as young as 17.

She also warned of so-called “Big Tobacco” attempting to market its products to children. Tigges said things like slivered beef jerky that’s sold in a can is even dangerous because kids can develop the habit of having something in their cheek and later switch to tobacco.

Candy cigarettes are designed to do the same thing, she said.

Tigges warned that nicotine — the primary active drug in tobacco — is addictive, which means a person often seeks it more frequently and in greater quantities once they start smoking or chewing.

Tigges said that chewing tobacco has 28 known carcinogens, or cancer-causing ingredients.

She said tobacco companies add sugar to chewing tobaccos to make it taste good and once people try it a couple of times they keep wanting more.

Tigges told students that once people start smoking or doing any kind of drugs it’s rare that they stop.