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Get Your Teeth Cleaned, Kick The Habit

January 28, 2009, 6:15 PM by Kelli Grant

Get Your Teeth Cleaned, Kick The Habit
You may be able to hide the fact that you smoke or chew tobacco at the doctor's office, but when it comes to the dentist, there's really no way around the truth.  Workers at your dentist's office aren't trying to make you feel guilty; they're trying to help you quit. 

The truth is, many adults who smoke or chew tobacco want to quit, but they don't where to start. Now smoking cessation can start in a conversation with your dental hygienist. 

In Jennifer Vander Esch's nearly 17 years as a dental hygienist, she's tried to talk to her patients about the dangers of tobacco. 

“I try to build relationships with my patients so you get to be on a friendly term, you get to know them. It's easier to ask them those tougher questions and they don't wanna let you down, they'll admit it usually,” Vander Esch said. 

Even when they don't, it's still hard to hide. 

“You know, they know you know which is a good way to open up the conversation,” Vander Esch said. 

She's having that conversation more often these days. The South Dakota Department of Health is funding a tobacco cessation education project. Dental office staff across the state are getting training and the tools needed to coach patients and help them kick the habit. 

“Even if you've quit in the past and haven't succeeded, that's normal and it's ok and we will help you try again.” Vander Esch said. 

Vander Esch makes sure her patients know about the state's QuitLine and which medications the program offers for free. She says it's the least she can do to prevent gum disease and tooth loss. 

“It's very rare in a smoker that you don't see some of those problems. You know even with great home care, they can do everything we tell them to do, they're going to see the gum disease and the bone loss,” Vander Esch said. 

Not to mention, an increased risk for oral cancer. 

“We'll see changes in the cheeks down in the lower lip and they never look there and that's where it is and that's where it gets started and it's a devastating cancer,” Vander Esch said. 

In the next five years, the project has set a goal to train 80 percent of dental practices in the state.  Vander Esch plans to take full advantage of that half hour in her chair to help each one of her patients succeed. 

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