E-Cigs & Oral Health

Posted on Dec 23, 2021 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

When it comes to vaping (using e-cigs) health risks to the heart and lungs are what tend to be the focus. However, vaping poses a number of other health risks, one being to your smile.

Risks to your oral health makes perfect sense. Think about it – the damage from vaping would naturally begin at its entry point: your mouth.

Although e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they are still delivery systems for nicotine. In addition to being addictive, studies show that the inhaled nicotine through vaping can alter the genetic makeup of your cells. This, in turn, stimulates the growth of cancerous cells in the body and increases your risk of developing cancer.

This can lead to tumor growth in the following types of cancer:

• Lung cancer
• Gastrointestinal cancer
• Pancreatic cancer
• Breast cancer

While much remains to be determined about the hazards surrounding this “alternative” delivery system to nicotine, more and more studies are showing unfavorable outcomes. When it comes to oral health, studies are culminating in a mountain of evidence that links e-cigarettes with poor oral health.

A study published earlier this year (iScience) showed that 43 percent of people using e-cigarettes had gum disease and oral infections. That figure jumped to 73 percent among smokers.

Nicotine (inhaled by any means) restricts blood flow to the tissues in the mouth. These tissues are moist by nature and designed to absorb moisture. Because of nicotine’s harmful contents, blood flow is restricted and oral tissues become dryer.

Today’s e-cig user is likely unaware of what’s in the fluid being inhaled. The vaping mist can contain propylene glycol, benzene, formaldehyde and other chemicals.

When the oral tissues repeatedly endure hazardous components, resulting issues can be inflammation, cavities, bone loss of the structures that support teeth, advanced gum disease (known as periodontitis), and oral cancer.

Because vaping is still a recent agent for nicotine, studies on the long-term effects are underway. Still, even without a long history of findings, early studies show concerning results.

When it comes to your oral health, studies indicate that vaping increases the risk of gum disease by causing gum inflammation and swelling. When these issues are combined with a dry mouth and higher levels of bacteria, the likelihood for developing gum disease shoots up significantly.

The common symptoms of gum disease for vapers include:

• Persistent bad breath
• Gums that bleed when brushing teeth
• Tender or swollen gums
• Loose or shifting teeth
• Receding gums

The effects of vaping on the teeth and gums can cause:

Dry mouth – Nicotine from e-cigarettes reduces the saliva in your mouth, your mouth’s rinsing agent. Too little saliva can lead to dry mouth, accumulated plaque (and subsequent development of tartar), increased bacteria, and tooth decay.

Receding gums – Nicotine restricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the teeth and gums. Without adequate blood flow, the gums fail to get sufficient oxygen and nutrients. This can cause the gum tissues to decline, which can lead to gum recession. This can result in tooth sensitivity, a higher risk of cavities and even tooth loss.

Bruxism and tooth damage – Nicotine acts as a muscle stimulant, which can lead to tooth grinding (bruxism) or worsen already-existing problems. Grinding or clenching can lead to tooth damage, such as chipped, fractured or broken teeth.

Oral health is a critical element of whole-body health. Two preliminary studies (presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference) linked gum disease with a higher rate of strokes caused by hardening of large arteries in the brain and with severe artery blockages.

A 2018 study in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that gum disease appears to worsen high blood pressure and interferes with medications to treat hypertension.

It is a misconception to believe that e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional cigarettes, or that vaping isn’t bad for your smile. If you’re a smoker or vaper, be highly committed to having regular dental cleanings and exams as well as your twice-daily oral hygiene routine at home.

If, however, signs of gum disease are already present, have a periodontal examination as soon as possible. Once underway, gum disease will only worsen without treatment. Call 828-274-9440 to schedule or to learn more. As an Asheville periodontist, I have advanced skills in treating all stages of periodontal (gum) disease and in the placement of dental implants.

Our Western NC periodontal dental office also places an emphasis on advanced technology and in comfort options, including oral and IV sedation (twilight sleep).



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