Updated: Mar 24, 2020
With the popularity of vaping and electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) on the rise, there’s been an increase in coverage of the negative impact of vaping on our health. However, not many are aware of the serious side effects that vaping can have on oral health.If you’re looking for a definitive answer as to the safety of vaping compared to smoking regular cigarettes, the jury’s still out on that one. Given the fact that this is a relatively new phenomenon, the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products are still largely unknown.When it comes to oral health, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that vaping, when compared to smoking cigarettes, does appear to pose fewer risks, but the degree of harm is still uncertain. Indeed, the more we learn about it, the more evidence we have that vaping may be just as damaging to your oral health as smoking.
So, what’s the deal?E-cigarettes, or vapes, work by heating a liquid called vape juice or e-juice through a coil in the e-cigarette device, generating an aerosol that the user inhales. When compared to what was initially in the liquid, research has shown that, once heated, lead levels (as well as those of chromium, zinc, and nickel), were found to be 25 times higher. This could prove to be even more of a health risk than smoking regular cigarettes.In addition to that, the ingredients making up the e-liquid, namely propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and nicotine, have been associated with the following risks.
Propylene Glycol (PG) This viscous, colorless, sweet liquid is a main ingredient of e-juice. Upon inhalation, the breakdown products of PG include acetic acid, lactic acid, and propionaldehyde, which are all toxic to tooth enamel and soft tissue. Water molecules in saliva and oral tissue will bond to the PG molecules, resulting in tissue dehydration – this ultimately leads to xerostomia, or dry mouth, which can have serious consequences in the long-term, leading to an increase in cavities, receding gums, painful oral sores, and other oral health issues.
Vegetable Glycerin (VG) Similar to PG, this sweet-tasting substance, when combined with flavorings, has been shown to produce a fourfold increase in microbial adhesion to enamel and a twofold increase in biofilm formation. What’s more, an increase in bacteria-initiated enamel demineralization (or decrease in tooth structure hardness) has been found. In other words, similar to a diet of sticky, sweet foods or acidic drinks, the increase in bacteria will lead to a major buildup of plaque, eventually resulting in rampant decay, especially in those with poor oral hygiene habits and irregular dentist visits.
Flavorings The wide variety of flavors available has been key in making vaping popular, especially amongst youngsters. The high sucrose content in the flavored vape juice, similar to what is found in candy and sugary drinks, leads to a higher risk of tooth decay. Moreover, whether the juice flavor has an impact or not on mouth irritation is still unknown, but one study has demonstrated that, amongst the flavors tested, menthol proved to be the most damaging to cells.
Nicotine Smokers who’ve switched to vaping thinking that their teeth will be less stained will be disappointed to know that the colorless nicotine, upon contact with oxygen, does turn yellow, resulting in stains on your teeth. Additionally, although the percentage of nicotine is much lower (0.3% – 1.8%) than in traditional tobacco products, one electronic cartridge (200 – 400 puffs) can be equal to the smoking of two to three packs of regular cigarettes.Studies have established that nicotine, due to its vasoconstricting effects, affects gingival blood flow, as well as the function of cytokines, neutrophils, and other immune cells. It also decreases connective tissue turnover and acts as a stimulant to your masticatory muscles. All of this results in a much higher chance of developing gum disease, tooth loss, and even abnormal muscle function (which may result in teeth grinding).
Lithium Batteries A less-obvious danger of vaping has to do with the lithium battery that is used to heat the e-juice. Although rare, these batteries can explode upon overheating, resulting in significant injury to the lips, cheeks, and even teeth.
In conclusion, further clinical studies are needed to understand both the short-term and long-term effects of vaping on both oral and general health – but dentists can confirm that one of the most common side effects reported by e-cigarette users was mouth dryness and throat irritation. Dry mouth, along with the chemicals and sugar content of vape juice, create a condition in which bacteria can thrive, producing acids that weaken tooth enamel, consequently leading to the development of tooth decay and gum disease. While prevention is the best medicine in this case, if you’ve chosen to vape as an alternative to smoking, it’s important to be aware of the side effects and to regularly touch base with your dentist about these.
In addition to that, there are a few steps you can take, as recommended by dental professionals, to minimize the negative effects of vaping on oral health:
• Limit your nicotine intake by opting for low-nicotine or nicotine-free juices. • Drink water after you vape in order to rehydrate and avoid dry mouth. • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily in order to remove plaque and promote gum health. • Visit your dentist regularly (every 6 months) to check for cavities, gum inflammation, or any new mouth sores and abnormalities.If you do notice bleeding or swollen gums, white spots on your teeth, red or white patches on your gums or inside of your cheeks, or persistent mouth sores or dryness, make sure to check these with your dentist as soon as possible.