Close up on a man exhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette

E-Cigarettes and Dental Health

It’s not news that tobacco products are harmful to your health. They cause tooth discoloration, aid in gum disease, and are the main cause of oral cancer. E-cigarettes have become wildly popular in recent years because they are believed to eliminate the risks of smoking traditional tobacco while allowing the “enjoyment” of inhaling flavored vapor that can be spiked with nicotine. Removing smoke from the equation seems to be a great benefit for the health of our society, and marketers of these products are quick to point to the ability to quit smoking because of E-cigarettes. Unfortunately the science coming in is determining that this form of smoking is just as damaging to oral tissues as traditional cigarettes and tobacco products.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

It’s likely you’ve encountered an e-cigarette in the past few years. These devices allow people to “smoke” a vapor that often contains nicotine and other flavorings. It affords the sensation of smoking without the tar, heat, and other known carcinogens found in cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco. They come in many shapes and sizes but generally consist of a battery, heating element, and reservoir that contains a flavored liquid. This liquid is heated, transformed into a vapor, and inhaled by the user. At their inception, e-cigarettes provided a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes and have helped many people kick the habit. However, as more research is conducted on the effects of e-cigarettes their “health benefits” are quickly dissipating.

E-Cigarettes and Oral Tissues

At the University of Rochester Medical Center’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, Dr. Irfan Rahman studied the effect of e-cigarettes on the tissues of the oral cavity on the cellular and molecular level. His team’s findings determined that e-cigarettes were equals with traditional cigarettes in the damage the caused to oral tissues but it wasn’t for the reasons they expected. Hypothesising that the unnamed and unknown chemicals that make up the liquid were the cause of damaged oral tissues they were surprised to find out that it was the heat from the vapor that started the domino effect. By exposing 3-D human, non-smoker gum tissue to e-cigarette vapor they found that the heat from the vapor set of inflammatory proteins which stressed the cells of the gum tissue. They determined that the amount of “vaping” a person does largely determines the amount of harm done to these tissues. Further the flavorings added to these liquids caused even more damage to the gingival cells. Compounded by the ill effects of nicotine – a known contributor to gum disease – the researchers determined without a doubt that e-cigarettes were no healthier than conventional cigarettes, and urge consumers to research these effects and put down their apparatus.

In another study Conducted by Universite Laval, found that the vapor from e-cigarettes quickly kill numerous oral cells. Understanding that the mucosal tissues in the mouth are the first line of defense against bacterial infections, Dr. Mahmoud Rouabhia were curious about how, on a cellular level, an e-cigarette affected its user. To find out, they placed epithelial cells in a chamber with a saliva-like liquid. Every fifteen minutes, they blasted e-cigarette vapor into the chamber for two, five-second intervals. Their results were shocking. In the control group (the group that was not exposed to vapor at all) the death rate of cells was consistent at 2%. For the cells exposed to the vapor the death rate was 18% on day one, 40 percent on day two, and 53 percent on day three. Consistent e-cigarette usage killed more than half of the epithelial cells in only three days.  These researchers pointed out that “vapor” is a bit misleading because people often think it’s just water. The liquid used for e-cigarettes commonly contains propylene glycol nicotine, flavorings, and vegetable glycerin. The compounds of these when burned into a vapor-state, are bound to cause damage. Damage that was corroborated in the first study discussed.

As demonstrated by these two studies, e-cigarettes are no safer than conventional cigarettes. If you are hoping to preserve your gingival and oral tissues, it is imperative that you abstain from smoking or inhaling any substances. Keeping your gums and teeth healthy is one of the most important things you can do for your oral and overall health. If you are hoping to stop smoking for good, contact Tobacco Free Florida. They have many resources available that can help you stop this life-threatening habit. As your Melbourne, Florida dentist, Dr. Brazdo wishes to keep her patients educated on how to help maintain their oral health, if you have questions about how smoking can affect your oral health ask her at your next appointment.