More and more dentists across Australia are seeing cases of oral cancer in patients who have brought the practice of betel quid chewing with them from their homeland, a practice which has the potential to affect thousands of migrants and new Australian populations.
For World Cancer Day held on 4 February, dentists are asking many new and immigrant Australians to stop the highly addictive habit that could cost them their life.
Betel quid chewing is regularly practised by 600 million people worldwide as a breath freshener, appetite suppressant and to induce euphoria in users from a range of countries including India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Taiwan and Myanmar. Through immigration, the use of betel quid has spread globally including to Australia in the last two decades.
“In some of these countries its use is widespread with chewing rates as high as 30 to 40 per cent of adults,” said the Australian Dental Association’s oral medicine specialist Professor Michael McCullough.
“More and more dentists are reporting to the Australian Dental Association (ADA) that they’re seeing patients with the devastating consequences of betel quid chewing.
“At this point, the extent of its use across the nation is largely unknown although anecdotally dentists in practices around Australia are collectively seeing around 60 to 100 people a year presenting with damage to their mouths related to betel quid use.”
Betel quid use affects the mouth by staining mouth, lips, teeth and cheeks bright red. Regular users are more likely to have poor oral hygiene, bad breath, tooth wear, gum recession, periodontal pockets or gaps around the tooth associated with severe gum disease and bleeding gums.
But using areca nut—either with tobacco (to create betel quid) or without—also increases the risk of developing soft tissue lesions, including leukoplakia (white patches on soft tissue), eythroplakia (red patches) and oral submucous fibrosis (which is progressive fibrosis or thickening and scarring of the mouth’s deep tissues), which can all progress to oral cancer.
“Due to its devastating effects on the mouth and throat, the Australian Dental Association strongly recommends that Australians don’t chew betel nut or its derivatives to decrease their risk of developing pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions within the mouth or throat,” Professor McCullough said.