The popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and vaping has soared in recent years. The promise of fewer health risks than cigarettes is appealing to users. But few people stop to consider the impact that the chemicals in e-cigarettes might have on one’s oral health. While it’s true that vaping eliminates the tar in cigarettes, other aspects of vaping can still be harmful to teeth and gums.
What’s in an E-Cigarette?
E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid, often called vape juice, until it turns to an aerosol or vapor. The liquid is a mixture of water, propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavorings. Vape juice does not contain tar, like traditional cigarettes, but most varieties do contain nicotine.
Is Vaping Safe for Your Mouth?
Removing the tar does remove one chemical that can be harmful to oral health. But the truth is, research on the long-term effects of the other substances in vaping are still in the early stages. So it is not clear how safe they are. Dental professionals do know, however, that some of the chemicals in e-cigarettes have a negative impact on dental health.
Potential Hazard: Inhaling Bacteria
Bacteria settling into the pits and crevasses of teeth is responsible for tooth decay that results in cavities. The act of inhaling the vapor of an e-cigarette brings bacteria into the mouth. Just like a diet of sticky, sweet foods, these additional bacteria contribute to a buildup of plaque in the mouth. Users may find themselves more cavity prone, especially if they fail to maintain good dental hygiene.
Making Matters Worse: Dry Mouth
The propylene glycol in e-cigarettes causes dry mouth in some users. Dry mouth may seem like just an annoyance, but it can lead to more serious oral health problems. Saliva acts as a natural defense against bacteria in the mouth. The heat and chemicals of vaping take away some of that moisture. The lack of saliva makes it easier for tooth decay to grow, increasing the chance of cavities.
Painful sores on gums and other mouth tissue can be another side effect of dry mouth. Chronic bad breath is more common too.
Vaping and Gum Disease
Excess bacteria and dry mouth can have an impact on gum health. But the act of vaping itself may be harmful to gum tissue, too. In addition to sores caused by dry mouth, some users have a sensitivity to the chemicals in e-cigarettes. They can irritate and inflame the gums. In serious cases, they will bleed and pockets will develop as gums recede. These are early signs of periodontal disease.
Flavors Like Candy, and Just as Bad
Part of what makes vaping so popular is the wide assortment of flavors that are available. You may have noticed that the vapor from e-cigarettes often has an extremely sweet aroma. The flavorings used often have the same properties as candy and drinks with high sucrose contents. Unfortunately, they may have the same effects on teeth too—higher chances of tooth decay and cavities.
Say No to Nicotine
By far, the most damaging ingredient in e-cigarettes is nicotine. Not all vape juices contain nicotine, but most do. The substance is responsible for several oral health care issues.
Nicotine and Tooth Stains
With cigarettes, tar is responsible for most stains on teeth, but vaping can cause them too. Nicotine is colorless, but when it is exposed to oxygen, it turns yellow. Smokers who switch to vaping thinking that their teeth will stay whiter will be disappointed. Many patients who vape end up turning to professional teeth whitening to remove stains.
It has been known by dental professionals for some time how bad nicotine is for dental health. It reduces blood flow to soft tissues in the mouth, which can be at the heart of many problems.
Long-term exposure to nicotine can cause gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. In serious cases, damage to gum tissue can result in teeth becoming loose and even falling out.
Restricted blood flow from nicotine also contributes to dry mouth and the inability to fight off bacteria discussed above.
One danger to oral health associated with vaping that is not so obvious has to do with the battery used to heat the vaping liquid. Under certain conditions these batteries can explode, sometimes causing significant injuries. If this happens while the e-cigarette is in or near the mouth, it could inflict extensive damage. The lips, cheeks, gums, and tongue could be cut and teeth could be broken. Reconstructive dental procedures might be necessary.
If You Choose to Vape
Studies are still being done to determine the impact of e-cigarettes and vaping on oral health. Although e-cigarettes are not quite as harmful as regular cigarettes, there are hazards. People who choose to vape should know the risks to both physical and dental health.
A few things can be done to lessen the dangers to oral health.
- Limit or avoid nicotine altogether. Choosing vape juice without nicotine can eliminate several worries.
- Drink plenty of water to replace the moisture that vaping takes away. Getting rid of dry mouth will help with several issues including bad breath.
- Keep up good dental hygiene habits. Routine brushing and flossing are the best defense for oral care issues.
And finally, see a dentist for regular professional cleanings and checkups. If you don’t have a dentist, use our online tool to find one near you.