Dental Products Report


Tony Gwynn's death a dark reminder that smokeless tobacco damaging to oral health [VIDEO]

June 25, 2014
Amanda Ellis

Amanda Ellis is the dental intern with Advanstar’s Dental Products Report. She is a pre-dental student studying biochemistry at John Carroll University. She is president of John Carroll’s Pre-Dental Society, a member of the American Student Dental Association, and is involved with the Jefferson J. Jones, DMD, Health Legacy of Cleveland Pre-Dental Mentoring Program. She can be reached by email at, Issue 6

Baseball Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2010. After a four-year battle that involved radiation therapy and two operations to remove tumors, Gwynn lost his life to oral cancer on June 16, 2014. He was 54 years old and left behind a wife and two children.

Baseball Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2010. After a four-year battle that involved radiation therapy and two operations to remove tumors, Gwynn lost his life to oral cancer on June 16, 2014. He was 54 years old and left behind a wife and two children.

Gwynn blamed his oral cancer on his longtime habit of using smokeless tobacco during his twenty-year career as a Major League Baseball player for the San Diego Padres. Gwynn is not the first iconic baseball player to lose his life to oral cancer after years of smokeless tobacco use. 

Check out this video to learn more about Oral Cancer Cause and the role of dental professionals…

While it is commonly known that tobacco is carcinogenic and is used by many professional baseball players, the Major League has not banned use of smokeless tobacco. While smokeless tobacco is discouraged in the Major League, it has been banned in the professional Minor League.

The Oral Cancer Foundation explains that there are “two distinct pathways by which people come to oral cancer.” The first is through tobacco and alcohol use and the other through exposure to the HPV-16 virus.

The American Cancer Society offers the fact that almost 9 million people use smokeless tobacco products. They further explain that three out of four people who use chewing tobacco have non-cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions in their mouths.

Check out this video that remembers Gwynn's iconic career...

In addition to causing oral cancer, tobacco is a risk factor for 25 diseases. The American Cancer Society explains that smokeless tobacco can cause a variety of oral problems including: gingivitis, bone loss around the roots of teeth, cavities, tooth decay, tooth loss, staining and discoloration of teeth, and leukoplakia, mouth lesions that can become cancerous.

Click here to learn more about oral cancer screenings and find a free e-book on oral cancer detection.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, tobacco contributes to about one third of cancer in the United States. Even though tobacco use is preventable, it is the most global cause of cancer and is expected to “make a greater claim on health than any other disease.”

With yet another tragic loss to cancer, we are reminded of the risks associated with tobacco use, and the need for oral cancer awareness and screenings. DPR recently spoke with Richard Gross, the senior product manager for StarDental, about why it is important for dental professionals to screen for oral cancer.

Click here to check out DPR's interview with Richard Gross.

After Gwynn's tragic passing, media has brought attention to oral cancer. DPR recently spoke to Richard Gross, senior product manager for StarDental, which is part of the DentalEZ Group, about the importance of oral cancer screenings and patient education.

DPR: With former athletes such as Tony Gwynn and Jim Kelly and their battles with oral cancer in the news, should this be a call to action for dental professionals to start screening if they aren't already?

Absolutely. The media coverage of these cases really helps bring the subject of oral cancer into the public eye. Oral cancer does not receive the attention or the research hours put forth for prevention and treatment like other cancers such as lung, skin and prostate. As a result, oral cancer is often found too late when treatment is limited and patients have less than a 30% survival rate past 5 years. If an otherwise healthy former athlete can be affected by this disease, people may realize the need for screening and start asking for it during their dental visits.

DPR: What are the biggest reasons why dental professionals aren’t screening and how can those be overcome?

Cost, lack of education and not wanting to bring up the “C” word to their patients. The cost shouldn’t be an issue, as any dollars put towards an adjunctive screening device (such as Identafi) can be recovered with approximately 4 exams a day for just a few months.

In years past, it was not uncommon for dental students to receive just a few hours of education on oral cancer, and it was rare to attend a dental meeting and hear information on oral cancer. Today, dentists have begun to view themselves more as an overall provider of oral health services – including the prevention of oral cancer.

In addition, dental professionals may not want to worry their patients by bringing up oral cancer. However, it is the dental team’s responsibility to create awareness and educate the patient about how early detection is vital in fighting cancer, and checking for suspicious lesions is a valuable precaution.

DPR: What role does the dental professional play in regards to tobacco cessation and side effect education?

Dental professionals are on the frontlines of oral healthcare; therefore, they can and should warn their patients about all potential risk factors, including tobacco usage. For example, the Affordable Care Act emphasizes preventive health measures.  Considering this and the so many various other educational materials available, dental professionals do have the resources and information to be able to willingly share the benefits of preventive health measures against oral cancer.

DPR: Do you have any statistics on overcoming oral cancer if it is caught early?

When found early, oral cancer patients have an 80 to 90% survival rate. Unfortunately, 40% of those diagnosed with oral cancer will die within five years because the majority of these cases are discovered in late stage malignancy. Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because the patient may not notice or recognize it in its early stages. It can frequently prosper without producing pain or symptoms. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected until it has already metastasized to another location.


About Richard Gross

Richard Gross is the senior product manager for StarDental, which is part of the DentalEZ Group. This company is responsible for designing and manufacturing dental chairs, light and handpieces, as well as Identafi Oral Cancer Screening System. Mr. Gross holds an MBA in health care administration and has extensive background in medical device and clinical product development within the medical and dental industry. He has held variety of positions including business development and management, marketing and new product development.