Vape: Smoking Alternative? Health Hazard? Oral Health Wrecker?

Vape: Smoking Alternative? Health Hazard? Oral Health Wrecker?

E-cigarettes and their ilk are perceived by many as a way to wean smokers off tobacco.

Many folks think, “Vaping has to be safer than smoking – it’s a great choice for me.” Yet, based on new research and experts’ opinions, vaping is a long way short of “safe” and should be practiced with caution, or not at all.

For those unfamiliar with the use of e-cigarettes and other “vaping” devices, here is what we can tell you.

What the heck is “vaping”?

E-cigs contain no tobacco, and there is no “smoke.” Rather, additives of various types, including nicotine, suspended in a liquid, are placed inside the e-cig chamber. When “lit” using batteries, usually of the lithium-ion variety, the liquid is heated to deliver the ingredients to the lungs via vapor.

The market is rife with all manner of vaping equipment and accessories. There is also a plethora of vaping liquids, each with unique flavors, aromas, and other contents.

Certain ingredients are harmless if you were to drink them, but heating them to high temperatures and inhaling them is another matter. Other ingredients in these mixtures, while not immediately harmful to breathe in, could kill you in small doses if swallowed. Since they are unregulated, vaping liquids are often packaged in bottles that are not child-proof, and dozens of accidental dosing incidents, often involving children, are reported each year.

Vaping and your dental health

Dentists know that nicotine, regardless of the form in which it comes, is bad for your mouth and teeth.

Nicotine is a vaso-constrictor – it closes off blood circulation to healthy tissue. Oxygen-starved tissue can then fall prey to gum disease, dry mouth, irritation, and halitosis (bad breath).

Interestingly, when nicotine closes off the blood supply, it also masks the signs of gum disease, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, making it more difficult for your dentist to detect and treat. Delaying treatment of gum disease can lead to serious health issues down the road.

Where’s the hard evidence of what vaping can do to my health?

In 2014, the FDA concluded that “e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don’t know the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or whether there are any benefits associated with using these products.”

In February of 2016, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, three toxicologists from the University of North Carolina, New York University, and the University of Louisville reported preliminary findings on the effects of vaping on genes that help the body fight infection. They saw significant suppression of these genes, roughly equal to that of the effects of tobacco.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR – part of the National Institutes of Health), recently commissioned studies will add more definitive proof of the damage done by vaping. These studies are desperately needed to give the FDA a basis upon which to specifically regulate the industry for the public’s protection (believe it or not, this lack of proof has been used as an excuse not to regulate since 2009!)  

What to do about vaping now?

Vaping affects not only adults but children as well. In fact, in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing that 13% of high school students and about 4% of middle school students reported using an e-cigarette “within the past month.” That says a lot about the e-cig industry’s goal to build up usage by teens, who had been showing decreased usage of regular tobacco products.

Given the lack of definitive data, health care practitioners often advise people to take precautionary measures, that is, to avoid vaping until we know more. We agree! Tell family members, friends, and colleagues that if they are looking for a way to enjoy life and quit smoking, best to avoid vaping until more is known.

If you can still be convinced to avoid vaping, please, be convinced! The uncertainty of long-term effects, along with current evidence, however limited, are reasons enough to keep away.

Ask us about vaping!