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How to manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic

Delta Dental of Illinois offers tips for healthy ways to cope

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (April 2, 2020) – With the legalization of cannabis in Illinois, it may be tempting to turn to marijuana — as well as tobacco and alcohol — as a way to manage anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Delta Dental of Illinois is urging Illinoisans to opt for healthier ways to relieve stress this April during Oral Cancer Awareness Month.

“Smoking marijuana can lead to a number of oral health problems including dry mouth and an increased risk of cavities and gum disease,” said Dr. Sheila Strock, vice president, dental services and science officer at Delta Dental of Illinois. “It could also potentially lead to oral cancer.”

Healthier choices for managing stress include taking outdoor walks and bike rides, participating in virtual yoga and fitness classes, meditating and getting enough sleep. It’s also important to eat healthy, well-balanced meals that include dairy, and fresh fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget to maintain your mental health through social interaction via video chats and phone calls with friends, family and coworkers.

This unprecedented time of illness and uncertainty comes with plenty of warnings to stay home, wash your hands and stay six feet away from each other.

It also comes as we enter Oral Cancer Awareness Month. An estimated 2,030 Illinoisans will be diagnosed with new cases of mouth and throat cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Oral cancer remains one of the top 10 types of cancer among men.1

Marijuana, tobacco and alcohol are all risk factors for oral cancer, whether used by themselves or in combination with one another:

  • Cigarette smokers are six times more likely to develop oral cancer.2
  • Those who smoke and drink heavily are 30 times more likely to develop oral cancer.3
  • Some studies have linked smoking marijuana with an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.4
  • The risk of oral cancer may be greater for those who smoke both cigarettes and marijuana.5

Other known risk factors for oral cancer include sun exposure and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.

“While research on the link between smoking marijuana and oral cancer isn’t yet definitive, why take a chance with your health?” Strock said. “It’s best to avoid smoking of any kind — whether it be tobacco or marijuana — to prevent the likelihood of developing oral cancer.”  

Symptoms and prevention

Potential signs of oral cancer associated with smoking marijuana include irritation, swelling and reddening in your mouth.6 You may develop leukoplakia or “cannabis stomatitis,”7 which shows up as white or gray patches on your gums, inside your cheeks, on the bottom of your mouth or on your tongue.8

Other symptoms of oral cancer include difficulty chewing, swallowing or speaking.

While dentists are only seeing patients for emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should contact your dentist if you are experiencing severe symptoms. Delta Dental of Illinois also encourages self-checks at home, as well as regular dental visits once the pandemic passes, to help detect symptoms of oral cancer early. During a routine checkup, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening and look for any symptoms that may cause concern.

Prevention is the best medicine. To reduce your risk of oral cancer, abstain from smoking tobacco and marijuana, avoid heavy alcohol consumption, apply lip balm with SPF and visit the dentist regularly.

About Delta Dental of Illinois

Delta Dental is the national dental benefits leader covering 1 in 3 Americans who have dental insurance. Delta Dental of Illinois is one of 39 member companies that make up the national Delta Dental system. Based in Naperville, Illinois, Delta Dental of Illinois provides dental benefit programs to more than 6,000 Illinois companies and covers 2 million individuals, employees and family members nationwide. Delta Dental of Illinois is committed to improving oral health in our community and furthers this commitment through the work of Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation.

1,3 American Cancer Society, 2020 Cancer Facts & Figures, https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2020/cancer-facts-and-figures-2020.pdf, page 10

2 Illinois Department of Public Health, http://www.idph.state.il.us/cancer/factsheets/oralcancer.htm

4,5,7 American Dental Association, https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/cannabis

6 American Dental Association, https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/viewpoint/my-view/2017/february/myview-marijuana-use-and-oral-health

8 Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/leukoplakia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354405