Updated: Jun 3, 2020
What is 'vaping'?
It is the use of a small electronic device, called an e-cigarette, to produce a vapour that is inhaled.
Vaping is a very popular replacement for conventional cigarettes. Some people use it as a support whilst they are quitting smoking. There are reports that some young people are taking up vaping as a primary habit.
Vaping is huge right now.
Walk down the streets of Sydney and everywhere you will see people surrounded by a halo of lolly-scented vapour.
Vaping was widely believed to be better for health than cigarette smoking. Clinical research into the impacts of this habit are so far inconclusive and woefully lagging as the rate of uptake of e-cigarettes increases.
Concerns about safety have increased in recent times with the appearance of lung conditions in young users. The city San Francisco has placed a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes. Other nations, such as Brazil and Thailand, already have strict bans in place.
In Australia, the situation is rather strange. It is legal to use e-cigarettes, however it is illegal to sell nicotine containing e-cigarette liquid without a medical prescription. This situation has created the perfect conditions for a thriving, unregulated online 'blackmarket' – making nicotine readily accessible to teenagers and pre-teens.
The possibility that vaping encourages teenagers to take up and become addicted to nicotine, then move to conventional cigarettes is a hot topic of debate.
So is vaping better than smoking?
No one can emphatically say 'yes' or 'no' right now because evidence-based medicine moves far too slowly in the case of booming trends like vaping. When a new health problem appears, it takes an agonisingly long time to be irrefutably connected to its cause.
What can be said is that the anecdotal evidence is becoming clear - more doctors are recognising a number of symptoms and signs of lung disease that are very likely to be related to vaping. As a result increased rates of respiratory disease related to e-cigarettes are now being reported.
In late August 2019, the first death related to vaping was recognised and hit the mainstream press.
Health concerns about vaping are not just related to the content nicotine. There are many compounds in e-cigarette liquids that have an uncertain risk profile when they are heated and inhaled into the mouth, upper airway, bronchioles and lungs.
And what about vaping and dental health? Are there risks to teeth and gums from vaping?
When vaping without nicotine:
The flavoured liquids increase the ability of bacteria to stick to teeth by a factor of four. This particularly favours nasty Strep mutans – the organism most responsible for tooth decay.
Flavoured liquids were also shown to be associated with loss of enamel strength.
Propylene glycol (a key ingredient) dries out the mouth increasing risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Propylene glycol also breaks down to form acetic and lactic acids, both of which are damaging to tooth enamel.
Addition of nicotine introduces further risks:
Nicotine is known to shut down blood flow to the tissues,
It impairs immune system cell function.
Nicotine also impacts adversely on the turnover of connective tissue.
These 3 effects greatly increase the risk of gum disease.
The devices themselves carry the risk of battery explosion, resulting in severe soft tissue damage.
If you are vaping, seek the advice of a dental healthcare professional on how to protect and care for your teeth and gums.
You cannot eliminate the risk of this habit, but you can reduce the damaging impacts with excellent oral hygiene and the development of a healthy diet.
It is simply not possible to recommend vaping as a safe alternative to cigarette smoking. As a dentist, I advise my patients of the risks and suggest that they seek support to quit, just as I do for cigarette smokers.
And for parents, I recommend that you talk openly to your teenagers and preteens so that they are aware of the risks
of nicotine and nicotine-free vaping . . .
before they become enthralled by this growing and concerning trend.
Impact of vaping on tooth enamel
Impact of vaping on tooth and gum health