Over the past few years, electronic cigarettes have become quite the topic of conversation. A trendy alternative to traditional cigarettes, many smokers have switched to e-cigarettes based on the assumption that they are safer. Chemicals found in traditional cigarettes can cause a myriad of issues for the smoker, and teeth discoloration and plaque build-up are just the tip of the iceberg. While e-cigarettes don’t contain as many harmful chemicals as traditional cigarettes, the vapor produced by e-cigarettes can still cause problems for the smoker. Since e-cigarettes have emerged on the scene, there has been an ongoing debate in the healthcare world about whether or not these cigarettes are actually safer. An important part of this conversation is the impact of e-cigarettes on oral health.
First, we should consider how e-cigarettes work. Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that are designed to look and feel like a traditional cigarette. To use an e-cigarette, the user fills the cartridge with a liquid containing nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. The liquid inside is heated and becomes vapor, which the user inhales. Though often used by those who want to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, they are also enticing to young people because of the flavorings that one can purchase. Unlike regular cigarettes, using an electronic cigarette enables the vapor to take on a tasty – often sweet – flavor. Cotton candy, grape, peanut butter and jelly, snickerdoodle, and toasted coconut are a few popular flavors.
While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco like traditional cigarettes, they still contain nicotine. Nicotine, no matter how it enters the body, can contribute significantly to poor oral health. For one, nicotine reduces the amount of blood that can flow through your veins. Without sufficient blood flow, the gums are unable to get the oxygen and nutrients that they need to stay healthy and eventually, the gum tissue can begin to die. The reduction in blood flow can also mask the symptoms of gum disease. Typically, gum disease is diagnosed when the gums swell with blood; so when you floss or brush, they bleed. But because of the vein constriction in the gums, this telltale symptom of gum disease can’t be observed.
Another problem that can occur is reduced production of saliva. The vapor from e-cigarettes can inhibit your ability to produce saliva, which can cause bad breath, bacteria build-up, and dry mouth. Though these side effects may seem minor, a consistent lack of saliva can ultimately contribute to tooth decay.
On the surface, it may appear that the use of an e-cigarette is safe. While it seems clear that using e-cigarettes is nominally safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, using an e-cigarette doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the clear regarding health risks. More research is being conducted to determine the extent of health risks posed by e-cigarettes. In the meantime, however, current discourse suggests that the use of e-cigarettes can have a negative impact on oral health, so we feel it’s best to play it safe. If you have concerns about e-cigarettes and their impact on your oral health, please feel free to reach out to us at 207-781-5900 or ask us during your next appointment.