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How Baseball Impacts Dental Health: 1800Dentist.com

Baseball is a favorite American pastime. Since the ball and bat sport took its contemporary form courtesy of the first officially recorded baseball game in U.S. history (June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey) countless people have enjoyed playing and watching the game; sadly that process has negatively impacted dental health because of the hidden messages behind the ball.

While some games may go into extra innings and cause fans to clench their jaws and potentially cause wear and tear on teeth, chances are the game is not going to cause any major dental problems. However, baseball is a sport forever intertwined with the tobacco industry (including smoking and chewing tobacco).  Some of baseball's commonalities still send subliminal messages regarding the topic and can potentially send message that nicotine and baseball go hand in hand. Nothing can be further from the truth.

For decades, baseball had been a favorite marketing platform for the tobacco industry. The very first professional baseball players relied on the stimulant effect of chewing tobacco in order to concentrate and nail whatever play they were trying to execute. During the infancy of the game, the health risks (carcinogenesis) surrounding tobacco use were unknown so baseball and tobacco seemed to be the perfect marketing relationship. Over time, science has proven otherwise and while rule changes for the 2012 season will prevent the use of chewing tobacco on the field, many aspects of the game still provide a constant reminder of tobacco and the negative impact of that product on dental health.

Baseball Cards

Flipping and trading baseball cards is as American as apple pie. Many people may recall a time when buying a pack of baseball cards included a gift of a rock-hard and sugar-packed piece of chewing gum. Some elder folks may remember when their favorite baseball cards came courtesy of cigarette packages.

The National Baseball League was created in 1876 as a way to regulate the game in regards to scheduling, membership and pay. The organization helped reshape the game and attract more attention to the sport. As the crowd attendance grew larger, cigarette manufactures saw a captive audience for their products. The tabacco/baseball ad trend started when New York based tobacco company Goodwin & Co., issued the Old Judge cards (primitive baseball cards included in packages of cigarettes) and other manufactures followed suit. It was this relationship that helped make Cap Anson, Mike 'King' Kelley, Buck Ewing, Charles Comisky and Charles 'Hoss' Radbourne household names.

Overtime, the toxic affects of tobacco became clearer. The habit is known for being highly addictive, not having any health benefits and for causing dental health issues such as bad breath, dry mouth, tooth decay, cavities and gum disease. Eventually gum (packed with dental health damaging sugar) replaced the tobacco. Now, some baseball card packets feature only cards, but the link to tobacco's past cannot be denied.

The Bullpen

While some people prefer keeping their eyes on the field action, other folks like checking out the bullpen to see the pitchers warm up before taking the mound. As fans stare in that direction, it is important to note that the little area also has a strong link to tobacco marketing and dental health. Rumor has it that the word "bullpen" was coined when the Blackwell Tobacco Company released Bull Durham brand tobacco. Advertisements for that brand covered outfield fences and the warm up areas nearby earned the nickname of bullpens (Heckle Depot, Retrieved July 2, 2010).


Tobacco companies relished their relationships with baseball and realized early on how a good word from one visible baseball player could spike sales. During the 1920s to 1940s big tobacco sponsored every major league team and superstars like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig all had individual contracts promoting the cigarette of their choice. However, as some of these greats started to get ill from their favorite products (IE Babe Ruth died of throat cancer) and when the relationship between tobacco and lung disease was exposed in the 1950s, things started to shift.

Since the truth behind tobacco has been exposed, the rules regarding the industry's influence on the game has vastly shifted. The evolution began in 1964 with the advent of the Cigarette Advertising Code, that stated that ads could no longer “depict as a smoker any person well known as being, or having been, an athlete…[or] any person participating in, or obviously having just participated in, physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning beyond that of normal recreation” (Tobacco in sport: an endless addiction? Tob Control 2005;14:1-2).

Current policy revisions include limiting the use of chewing tobacco as well. A health effort lead by the American Dental Association,  nine major health organizations and a group consisting of more than 200 national, state and local partners have help change the contract agreement terms for baseball season, big-league players, managers and coaches to further limit tobacco use of any kind.  Starting in 2012 those industry insiders must take extra precautions to  provide the perception that there is no longer a love affair between baseball and big tobacco. Some changes breaking the couples up include:   

  • Tobacco tins or packages can no longer be carried in a uniform either during game play or any time fans are present.
  • Industry insiders (players, managers, etc.) are  banned from using smokeless tobacco during televised interviews, at autograph signings or other events that are either team-sponsored or make baseball workers visible to fans.

Additionally, the new laws put behind the scene changes in effect to help players quit either their smokeless or smoky tobacco consumption. Overall the changes are targeting those involved in the sport as well as preventing the addicts from  making the behavior look cool to impressionable fans.

Both baseball and tobacco are intertwined with American history. The cultural impact from the combined powerhouses will continue to live on and potentially impact dental health for those uneducated on the relationship. Individuals looking to find out more information on how baseball relationships with tobacco can impact dental health can call 1-800-DENTIST to find a dentist who may have more insight into the field.

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