Your mouth is truly resilient; it’s one of the fastest healing parts of your body. But like anything in life, the mouth and everything it includes can only take so much trauma before developing irreversible damage.
That’s what dentists across the country are saying about vaping’s effects on oral health in an article published by the American Heart Association.
Only recently have the adverse impacts on the heart and lungs been recognized within youth who use electronic cigarettes, but a growing body of research is showing how the chemicals in vapor can contribute to issues such as inflammation, cavities, loss of bone and oral cancer.
On top of the damage, smoking in general also weakens your immune system, which makes it harder to fight off infections in the mouth. It’s a positive feedback loop of damage, experts say.
“It’s absolutely scary stuff,” Dr. Purnima Kumar, a professor at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, told the AHA. “E-cigarettes stress the bacterial communities that live in your mouth, and they encase themselves in slime. So, they’re no longer good bacteria and the inflammatory response is through the roof.”
Kumar was the senior author of a study published in May that revealed the collection of bacteria, viruses and other microbes living in the mouths of e-cigarette users without gum disease looked a lot like those in people with periodontitis, a serious infection that damages gums and can destroy jawbones.
What’s in vape fluids?
Of the chemicals found in vape fluids are carcinogens known to cause cancer; propylene glycol used in paints, antifreeze and artificial smoke in fog machines; acrolein primarily used to kill weeds; and heavy metals such as tin and nickel, according to the American Lung Association.
Nicotine is in the mix, as well, a highly addictive substance that can affect adolescent brain development and restrict blood flow to gums, leading to different diseases.
“You hear ‘vapor’ and you think steam facials or a tea kettle,” Kumar said. “It’s not a vapor. It’s an aerosol, like hairspray or what you use to kill ants and cockroaches. When I teach young kids, I take little cans of hairspray and say, ‘I want you to spray this in your mouth.’
“They say, ‘Ew, no.’ So, I say, ‘Then why would you vape?’ ”
Vaping versus smoking: which is worse?
Unsurprisingly, a study published in February found that 73% of 40 traditional cigarette smokers had gum disease and oral infections, while 43% of 40 vapers had the same oral health issues; 28% of people who do neither had gum disease.
Although vaping is slightly better for your health overall, Kumar says research on it has “just scratched the surface.”
“People are walking around thinking they’re healthy, but they are just primed for disease,” he said.
Dr. Crystal Stinson, an assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry in Dallas, told AHA more and more young people are presenting with oral disease normally only seen in adults.
“Younger people normally have more saliva than they need, so when they present with dry mouth, periodontal disease or increased complaints of mouth ulcers, our next question is, ‘Do you vape?’ These symptoms are all tied to components in e-cigarettes,” she said.
The candy-like flavorings put in vapes don’t help either, Stinson said. Although the Food and Drug Administration banned many flavored e-cigarettes in February, many young people are already addicted to nicotine even without hints of cotton candy or watermelon.
Unfortunately, given how little is known about vaping, Stinson said “everybody’s an experiment right now.”