Alex Rodriguez Says He Didn’t Get Gum Disease from Chewing Tobacco

Chew this!

Shortly after Alex Rodriguez revealed on CBS News Wednesday morning that he had been diagnosed with early-stage gum disease, the retired Yankees player spoke with People about his dental issues, and debunked some misconceptions about its causes.

Historically, professional baseball players have been largely associated with smokeless tobacco—specifically nicotine-laden tobacco, such as “dip” and “chew,” which they would stuff into their lips or cheeks to stay on the field. Mouth is moist.

So it's natural for fans to assume Rodriguez's gum disease diagnosis is related to baseball's toxic tradition. However, the 47-year-old All-Star told PEOPLE that's not the case for him. “I don't want readers to think that if you smoke…if you do drugs, this is going to happen to you.”

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Gum disease, which affects nearly 65 million Americans nationwide, “can happen to anyone,” he added.

In fact, Rodriguez, who has teamed up with OraPharma to raise awareness on the subject, told People that he “doesn't chew tobacco” and “doesn't smoke” despite what people think. “I just don't like chewing tobacco,” he said. “I think I tried it once and threw up and never tried it again.”

Instead, he turned to other “weird conventions.” Rodriguez said that in addition to popping sunflower seeds, he also chews 36 pieces of gum per game.

“We played nine innings, right? I tried to play four in a half, or two and two … and you chew,” he explained. “It's a habit that once an inning is over, you kick that inning and start a new one. “For 25 years, you've been doing crazy things. That's one of my weird habits.

It's just one of Rodriguez's traditions in the game. “If the rain delays it, I'll make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” the former Yankees player admitted to People magazine.

New York Yankees No. 13 Alex Rodriguez reacts after a game against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York City on June 19, 2015. The Yankees defeated the Tigers 7-2.
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

“So if it starts raining and Yankee Stadium is delayed for an hour, I'll go to the clubhouse and make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because these games usually go until midnight or one in the morning, so a little PB&J is perfect ,”He said.

Rodriguez said he has never felt pressured to use nicotine-containing substances, such as dipping or chewing diamonds. “When I was playing, I don't think I ever felt an ounce of pressure from gum, tobacco, dip. All those things are just personal preference,” he said.

“I think the league has done a good job of clearly communicating to all players that this is something they shouldn't do. We've had some incredible tragedies in our history,” the athlete noted.

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Rodriguez also stressed the importance of dental exams to increase the chances of catching gum disease early, as the disease often goes unreported, which can lead to an increased risk of other chronic conditions.

“I have this misconception, and I have a feeling that other people probably feel the same way, that if you smile brightly, your teeth feel clean, you brush and floss, then you're safe,” Rodriguez said. “None of this is true. This could happen to anyone.”

He added, “So I think the sooner you go to the dentist and get this problem sorted out, the better.”

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