When they first came on the scene, unless they were designed to mimic the real thing, e-cigarettes looked rather strange, with their barrels of exotically coloured liquids and mysterious vapour. Now these electronic devices are everywhere and ‘vaping’ has become hugely popular.
As a dental practice, we are interested in the impact these now ubiquitous e-cigs may have on oral health but, despite the direct contact their emissions have with the mouth, there has been scant attention paid to the potential oral side effects of ‘vaping’, or indeed how it can affect the body as a whole.
The ins and outs of e-cigs
E-cigs have appeared in a variety of guises over the years and are now much more technologically advanced than they once were. The ‘first generation’ looked like larger than life cigarettes with glowing LED tips, but they now resemble space age screwdrivers and often have added features such as variable voltage systems and digital displays. Despite external appearances, they all share the same goal – to provide a pleasurable smoke-free experience.
So how do they manage to mimic conventional smoking? The e-cig solution, containing diluents, flavouring and usually nicotine, is drawn through an atomiser which heats up this liquid concoction to produce a ‘vapour’ that is then inhaled. This process replicates how tobacco is traditionally smoked, which is why e-cigs are so popular with smokers. There is also a dizzying array of flavours on offer, from tobacco and menthol, right through to less obvious choices such as candy floss, bubble gum and pumpkin pie!
Mainly used by smokers and ex-smokers, e-cigs are generally viewed as an effective smoking cessation aid or as a way to reduce tobacco use. Many health experts agree that if ‘vaping’ is used to help stop smoking, it can reduce the risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease, as well as a whole host of other unwelcome health problems.
Like tobacco products, e-cig liquids contain nicotine, however, it is not this addictive chemical that contributes to the serious health issues associated with smoking, but rather the toxic constituents of tobacco smoke and tar. These are also responsible for unpleasant mouth matters such as bad breath and teeth staining. That’s why ‘vaping’ is considered less damaging to your oral and general health, and preferable to lighting up.
So are there any known negative effects?
Toxins have been found in e-cigs but at a much lower level than in tobacco smoke. It’s important to remember, however, that ‘vaping’ is not akin to breathing fresh mountain air and never will be. Most ‘e-juices’ (the flavoured liquids) contain nicotine and this can contribute to oral problems. That’s because it is a vasoconstrictor, which means it reduces the amount of blood that can flow through your veins so the gums (the essential support for your precious teeth) don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay in tip top condition. This may increase the risk of developing gum inflammation (gingivitis) which can lead to serious gum disease (periodontitis). However, nicotine may actually mask the signs of gum disease because the reduced blood flow means your dentist or hygienist may not be able to spot the typical symptoms of redness and bleeding.
Nicotine can also inhibit your body’s ability to produce saliva and a dryer mouth means an increased chance of plaque build-up, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.
The jury may still be out on the safety of e-cigarettes, but the general consensus is that they are not as dangerous as puffing on tobacco and can help smokers cut down or kick the habit completely. However, if you do indulge in ‘vaping’, you may need to pay a little more attention to your oral health, by making sure you attend regular check-ups and hygiene visits, and developing an effective teeth cleaning routine.