There’s ample evidence tobacco smoking increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But the same may be true for electronic cigarettes (E-cigs): Although millions have turned to “vaping” believing it’s a safer alternative to smoking, there are growing signs it might also be harmful to oral health.
An E-cig is a device with a chamber that holds a liquid solution. An attached heater turns the liquid into a vapor the user inhales, containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Because it doesn’t contain tar and other toxic substances found in tobacco, many see vaping as a safer way to get a nicotine hit.
But a number of recent research studies seem to show vaping isn’t without harmful oral effects. A study from Ohio State University produced evidence that E-cig vapor interferes with the mouth’s bacterial environment, or oral microbiome, by disrupting the balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in favor of the former. Such a disruption can increase the risk for gum disease.
Other studies from the University of Rochester, New York and Universitẻ Laval in Quebec, Canada also found evidence for vaping’s negative effects on oral cells. The Rochester study found astringent flavorings and other substances in vaping solutions can damage cells. The Quebec study found a staggering increase in the normal oral cell death rate from 2% to 53% in three days after exposure to E-cig vapor.
Nicotine, E-cig’s common link with tobacco, is itself problematic for oral health. This addictive chemical constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth’s tissues. This not only impedes the delivery of nutrients to individual cells, but also reduces available antibodies necessary to fight bacterial infections. Regardless of how nicotine enters the body—whether through smoking or vaping—it can increase the risk of gum disease.
These are the first studies of their kind, with many more needed to fully understand the effects of vaping on the mouth. But the preliminary evidence they do show should cause anyone using or considering E-cigs as an alternative to smoking to think twice. Your oral health may be hanging in the balance.