Tobacco clinic helps patients kick the habit

March 23rd, 2023

With the aid of more than a million dollars from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), Texas A&M School of Dentistry’s Tobacco Cessation Clinic is helping patients quit bad habits like smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco.

Today, Angela Wilson, certified tobacco treatment specialist with the office of social services, oversees the clinic. The clinic started about 20 years ago, then overseen by retired vice-chair of Public Health, Kathleen Rankin and PHS faculty, Ms. Elain Benton.

“I’m the main counselor for the clinic here at the school,” Wilson said. “With the grant, we’ve been fortunate enough to provide nicotine replacement therapy to our patients. This includes patches, lozenges and chewing gum.

“It also provides education for providers,” she continued. “In fact, we will be providing free CE credits with the aid of our school’s own Dr. Kerin Burdette and Professor Jane Cotter on April 28.”.

Wilson said the clinic sees three to four patients a week. All are referrals from the dental school, and services are free. D3 students are required to refer all tobacco users they treat to the clinic, but all students and residents in the clinic are encouraged to make referrals.

After Wilson receives the referral, she follows up with the patients to see if they’d like assistance quitting. Patients who express interest schedule an appointment and receive replacement therapy items at regular intervals from the clinic.

Patient numbers dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said clinic staff is working hard to catch up on meeting with them and resupplying them as needed to get numbers back to pre-pandemic levels.

Dr. Simmi Patel is a certified tobacco treatment specialist and also offers counseling out of North Dallas Shared Ministries, one of the school’s community clinics. The current principal investigator on the grant is Dr. Peggy Timothe.

Smoking and consistent use of tobacco has long been linked to developing cancer, particularly in the lungs, head and neck. Besides this, smoking has other negative impacts on dental health: yellowing teeth, dry mouth and dry sockets, if a tooth has to be removed.

“Tobacco really impacts patients when they’re having an extraction,” Wilson said. “It’s extremely important that they’re not smoking because it increases their chances of getting dry sockets. Generally, it’s just good for everyone to stop smoking.”

In the future, Wilson hopes to expand clinic services to include patients outside the dental school, too.

“The long-term plan is to just keep this going,” she said. “Even if we didn’t have a grant, we would want to keep a tobacco clinic presence in the school because it really is so important.”

— Caleb Vierkant