Electronic cigarettes, commonly called E-cigs, are marketed to the public as the cleaner, healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. While they reduce many health concerns by removing consumers exposure to smoke, not much has been studied regarding the impact of the E-cig aerosols on oral tissues. Many questions and concerns remain especially the potential effects on oral health.
Are E-Cigs regulated?
Most consumers do not realize that E-cigs have been completely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past. That changed in May 2016, when the FDA amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to include e-cigs, cigars, and hookah. Now that e-cigs are finally under FDA supervision, studies are underway to determine what exactly is in all the liquids that consumers have been inhaling – and consequently, what the potential side effects are to E-cig users.
What is an E-Cig?
E-Cigs are electronic devices that use a battery and a heating element to vaporize a nicotine-infused liquid, known as an e-liquid, which comes in disposable cartridges. Vaporizers, or vape pens, are similar to E-cigs. Instead of burning the liquid, they gradually heat it with warm air, allowing the liquid to last longer.
What is in the e-liquid?
With the large variety of flavors available and the lack of regulation, not much is known regarding the contents of e-liquids. Nicotine is present, of course, in most of the e-liquids, and preliminary studies have found toxins like lead, nickel, chromium, and diethylene glycol which is an ingredient commonly found in antifreeze.
Although some toxins appear to be lower in E-Cigs than in traditional cigarettes, no one knows how much lower they are. And, the vast array of flavors makes studying the e-liquid ingredients even more complicated. One ingredient used in butterscotch-flavored e-liquids, called diacetyl, is safe to eat but has been linked to respiratory problems when inhaled.
What is the impact of E-Cigs on Oral Health?
The lack of regulation on these products has produced a research void on the impact these chemicals have on oral health. The only thing known for certain about most of these products is that they contain nicotine, which causes a variety of gum and mouth issues.
What does nicotine do to gums?
Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor., which means that it contracts the muscular walls of blood vessels, narrowing them. With reduced blood and nutrient flow, gum tissue dies causing gum recession, which leads to exposed tooth roots. When roots are exposed, your teeth become more susceptible to bacterial infections and gum disease. These infections can cause gingivitis – the irritation, redness, and swelling of the gums – which in turn can turn into a more severe infection called periodontitis if left untreated. Periodontitis damages the soft tissue and bone that supports your teeth, resulting in possible tooth loss. It also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
What does nicotine do to your mouth?
Most E-Cig users report dryness and irritation in their mouths and throats. Because of the vasoconstriction of nicotine, saliva production is inhibited. This causes the dryness and irritation, which also leads to bad breath. If users grind their teeth, it has also been found that nicotine stimulates muscles and makes grinding worse.
Are there any benefits to E-Cigs over traditional cigarettes?
On the oral health side, E-Cigs do not stain teeth like regular cigarettes, which is a good aesthetic advantage. More generally, E-liquids come in various nicotine levels, which can help consumers who are looking to stop smoking permanently. Removing the carcinogens produced by burning tobacco seems to make E-Cigs a healthier choice than traditional cigarettes, but we still do not know the trade-off between those carcinogens and the inhalation of chemicals that E-Cigs present.
Don’t be fooled.
Just because research has not caught up with E-Cigs yet, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences. E-Cigs can hide gum disease from consumers and their dentists. Dentists look for increased blood flow to the gums as a sign of gum disease. Gums get irritated and bleed when you floss or brush your teeth, signaling that you have an issue. Because nicotine contracts the blood vessels, gums may show no signs of increased blood flow. With no signs of gum disease, it goes untreated, allowing more serious oral health issues to develop down the road.
Find Out More.
As the FDA begins to monitor E-Cigs, we will learn more about what consumers are inhaling and the potential side effects. If you are worried about the consequences of E-Cigs on your teeth, or simply nicotine use in general, contact us at Ideal Dental today to set up an appointment. Our team of dentists in Arlington Va and Tysons Corner can discuss the issue with you and help you understand the impact of these issues on your oral health.