Background: Smokeless tobacco has been implicated as a risk factor for numerous oral conditions. Since baseball players are known to have a high incidence of smokeless tobacco use, they are an excellent group in which to study the effects of smokeless tobacco on the oral cavity. We report our findings in 206 of 220 eligible men during spring training of a professional baseball organization. Major and minor league ballplayers, coaches, and management personnel were included.
Methods: Participants completed a 2-page, 23-item questionnaire on smokeless tobacco use. This was followed by a detailed examination for oral leukoplakia, periodontal disease, and dental caries performed by a physician who was blinded to the results of the questionnaire. Oral leukoplakia was graded I, II, or III according to severity.
Results: Eighty-eight of 206 participants (42.7%) reported current use of smokeless tobacco; 62 of these men used smokeless tobacco year round, while 26 used smokeless tobacco only during the baseball season. The 88 smokeless tobacco users often used more than one form of tobacco. Moist snuff was the most common form (73.9% of users) followed by loose leaf tobacco (53.4%) and plug tobacco (9.1%). Oral leukoplakia was found in 25 of 88 current users (28.4%). Only the year-round users, however, had an incidence rate (37.1%) that was significantly different from all others (odds ratio = 9.35, 95% CI = 3.46 to 26.21). Year-round users were also more likely to have a higher grade of oral leukoplakia. Periodontal disease and dental caries were no more prevalent among smokeless tobacco users than nonusers.
Conclusions: We conclude that the use of smokeless tobacco products is a significant risk factor for the development of oral leukoplakia, and that this risk is greatest in those individuals who use smokeless tobacco continuously throughout the year.