Earlier this year, the results of a new study of vaping activity were published in the British Medical Journal. Led by Professor David Hammond of the University of Waterloo, the study — as reported by the Canadian Cancer Society — found that between 2017 and 2018, vaping among teens 16 to 19 years old increased by 74% in Canada alone. The study was conducted twice,once in August/September 2017 and again in August/September 2018.
Clearly, vaping has become a popular activity among a high number of young people as well as many adults, who use devices such as e-cigarettes, vape pens and personal vaporizers known as MODS. These devices are used to heat and inhale flavored “e-liquids” that usually contain propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and sometimes other chemicals and even some metals.
But there’s no tobacco involved. So does that make it safe? Some people think so. And while in some ways it might be less harmful than smoking cigarettes and other items, it’s definitely not safe from an oral health standpoint.
While there’s a lot of current debate on both sides of the issue, it would appear that there are a number of oral health risks associated with vaping.
For one, we know that propylene glycol, a liquid alcohol used in the manufacture of ice cream, sweeteners and other products, is a hygroscopic product. This means that water molecules in saliva and oral tissue will bond to the propylene glycol molecules, affecting the tissues, leading to dry mouth, which can then cause cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues. Propylene glycol also breaks down into acetic acid, lactic acid and propionaldehyde, all of which can deteriorate tooth enamel and soft tissues. This is not to mention the dry mouth that can occur as a result of having heated vapor in the mouth.
Oral health problems can also be caused by the vegetable glycerin and flavorings that are key components of vaping liquids. Vegetable glycerin, a sweet-tasting liquid used in many medical and pharmaceutical applications, is also used as a solvent and sweetener in food products.
Although it’s not generally considered to cause cavities, studies have shown that the combination of glycerin with flavorings does create increases in microbial adhesion to tooth enamel and biofilm formation. Plus, enamel hardness showed a marked decrease due to the use of added flavorings. And the e-liquid’s viscosity allowed more cavity-causing bacteria to stick to softer teeth, leading to decay.
The presence of nicotine is a huge problem as well. Just by itself, nicotine reduces the amount of blood that can flow through your veins. When this occurs, your gums don’t get the oxygen and nutrients that are needed to keep them healthy. To compensate, nicotine chokes the tissues in the mouth from the blood it needs to survive, causing the gum tissues to die. In addition, nicotine can also cause the teeth to become darker since it sticks to the enamel, making it rougher. This can also cause plaque to build up. Finally, nicotine is a stimulant that can cause you to grind your teeth more intensely. If you don’t already grind your teeth, it’s possible that it can make you start.
If you don’t vape, please don’t start. If you do, consider quitting or at least have a discussion with your dentist. While vaping is trendy, it’s not safe for the teeth, mouth and gums, and it’s possible that other health problems will eventually be attributed to it as well.