What is a vape or an e-cigarette?
A vape or an e-cigarette is a device that produces an aerosol that can be inhaled. This is created usually by a battery that powers a heating element, which in turn heats the liquid in the reservoir. The liquid can be flavored and can contain different concentrations of nicotine. These products are heavily marketed as being healthier or an alternative to smoking, and many people turn to these products as way of smoking cessation. However, many of the vape liquids available contain nicotine which is an addictive stimulant.
What’s inside an e-cigarette?
Here is a breakdown of what an e-cigarette contains and the possible effects of these substances to your oral and overall health.
- Propylene Glycol - Once broken down, it has products that are toxic to teeth enamel and soft tissues.
- Vegetable Glycerin and flavourings – These are found to make teeth enamel softer and surfaces stickier, which in turn causes cavity-forming bacteria to stick more easily into the natural grooves and crevices of the teeth.
- Nicotine - This chemical is a vasoconstrictor which means it decreases the blood supply to the gums and tissues of the mouth. This causes a reduced and slower healing.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the aerosols have ultrafine particles that are inhaled deep into the lungs, along with cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as lead, nickel and tin.
It is true that e-cigarettes have less harmful contents than tobacco products and also doesn’t produce the same carbon monoxide created by smoking tobacco, but it doesn’t mean that they are any safer.
Oral health risks posed by vaping
While there hasn’t been enough evidence from long-term and ongoing studies to answer many of the health questions about vaping, here are some of the facts we do know.
Vaping changes the conditions inside the mouth which can cause:
- Dry mouth - This can lead to issues such as tooth decay due to lack of saliva. Saliva is the natural defense system in the mouth against cavity-causing bacteria.
- Gum and soft tissue irritation and/or ulceration – This is due to drying of the tissues and lack of lubrication along with chemicals released from the liquid. This in turn can affect taste and swallowing.
- Periodontal disease (gum disease) - Vaping causes inflammation and swelling of the gums just like normal tobacco products. Plus, nicotine causes decreased blood supply to the tissues.
- Bad breath – It can be caused by the dry mouth, cavities in the teeth, or presence of gum disease.
- Staining - Although it may be less than usual tobacco stain, the nicotine from vaping can still stain the teeth especially if the mouth is dry.
Vaping doesn’t just affect the mouth, it’s considered a health risk for the entire body. It is recommended to limit the intake of nicotine and ultimately stop using these products altogether. Seek help in stopping smoking or vaping. I know this can be easier said than done, so here are a few tips to help in this journey.
- Speak to your doctor about quitting for good.
- Drink water after using any of these products to help minimize side effects.
- Floss and brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.
- Reduce sugar and acidic intake as a dry mouth makes you more prone to acid erosion and tooth decay.
- Visit your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for check-ups and cleaning, and visit sooner if you notice any irregular changes in the mouth such as persistent ulcers or sores returning in the same place or not healing.