Are E-Cigarettes Safer for Your Oral Health?
What Does Vaping do to your Smile?
It’s no surprise; tobacco is terrible for your teeth. Smokeless tobacco, pipes, cigarettes, and cigars are all known culprits. Patients who admit to using any of those are likely ready to hear a lecture from the dentist about the damage they are doing to their oral health and the long-term danger yet to come if they continue to use these products in the future. Patients who deny tobacco use are likely to find that they can’t hide the evidence of their regular use from the dentist. Tobacco use clearly marks the teeth, gums, and all the areas of the mouth in ways unique to tobacco use. However, the new phenomenon of e-cigarette use—vaping presents a challenge to patients and dentists to evaluate the safety of this emerging habit.
Enthusiasts of vaping are apt to tout its safety, claiming it’s just water vapor, and water vapor is incredibly safe. It’s often presented as a better, healthier alternative to cigarette smoking. So the question becomes, are those frequent claims true or are they leaving out a big part of the picture? Is vaping a danger to your oral health?
All Signs Point To….
E-cigarettes and vape pens are not, despite the friendly claims, filled with plain water. The vape juice has numerous other ingredients to make the experience more appealing (and possibly more habit-forming). Propylene glycol, for one, is a common ingredient in vape juice. This chemical actually takes water into its molecules, causing or aggravating dry mouth. Dry mouth is a major risk factor for cavities. Further, sweet ingredients in vape juice have been shown to cause four times the amount of cavity-causing bacteria to stick to tooth enamel. Early research indicates that sweetened vape juice is comparable to sugar-sweetened candy in the mouth.
That’s before the elephant in the room, nicotine makes an appearance. Many vape juices contain nicotine; that’s one reason e-cigarettes are touted as an easy step-down for smokers. Research on nicotine suggests it is a significant risk factor for gum disease, in part by acting to constrict small blood vessels and thus reducing healthy blood flow to gums. It also is understood to change immune cell function, making it harder for your mouth to fight off oral bacteria.
So, is it healthier than smoking? Maybe, but vaping is definitely worse for you than not smoking at all. A study comparing regular smokers to vape pen users and never smokers found that the never smokers had less plaque and better blood flow to the gums than either group that used a type of cigarette (e- or traditional). While e-smokers fared better than cigarette smokers, they fared worse than non-users. Another study found that e-cigarette use increases long term inflammation in the mouth, setting the conditions for caries disease and periodontal disease to flourish. If they are causing inflammation, they are dangerous to your oral health.
It’s also worth considering that e-cigarette use is the largest area of growth in tobacco use in young people, which had been declining before vaping hit the market. Given how little we know about the long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use, this is a particularly dangerous circumstance.
The signs seem to point to vaping being quite dangerous to your oral health. The best tobacco use for your continued good oral health is no use at all.