San Francisco, CA – In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people using electronic cigarettes. Touted as a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, people everywhere are switching out their traditional cigarette habit for these new e-cigarettes. We all know the effects smoking has on oral health, but what damage, if any, do e-cigarettes do?
An electronic cigarette is battery powered, and contains a heating element that vaporizes a solution that contains chemicals, nicotine and other additives. Because of the vapor instead of smoke, they are frequently seen in places where smoking is no longer allowed. Their makers claim that they are alternatives to cigarettes that do not expose the user or those around to harmful levels of cancer-causing agents or other dangerous chemicals found in standard cigarettes. But is that true?
“E-cigarettes are so new that long-term effects of their use can’t be known yet,” says San Francisco dentist Dr. Greg Larson. “However, current research shows that electronic cigarettes negatively impact oral health. One of my biggest concerns is that e-cigarettes aren’t regulated by the FDA. That means we have no way of knowing if any claims an e-cigarette company makes are actually true, and instead simply have to take the marketer’s word for it. This leave consumers open to ingesting harmful chemicals that they aren’t even aware of.”
We know that the vaporizing liquid that is used in these cigarettes contains dangerous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, propylene glycol, nickel, cadmium and nitrosamines, among many others. Some of the chemicals found in e-cigarettes are known carcinogens, which increase a user’s risk of developing oral cancer.
Electronic cigarettes also contain nicotine. Continued exposure of the gums to nicotine can result in gingivitis, or gum disease. Gum disease can become serious if not treated and can lead to bone and gum loss and eventually the loss of teeth. Additionally, it is linked to higher risks of other serious disease, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But because nicotine use often masks the symptoms of gum disease, cigarette use of any kind can make it much harder for a dentist to diagnose.
Nicotine woks as a vasoconstrictor. This means it compromises blood flow, which can lead to the death of gum tissue. Gum recession can loosen teeth, and because the gum tissue absorbs high levels of nicotine, a user’s risk for developing other oral disease increases.
One common issue with regular cigarettes is they leave a user with bad breath after smoking. While e-cigarette companies may claim it doesn’t happen with their products, it most likely will. Nicotine dries out the mouth, meaning users won’t produce the necessary saliva to wash away bacteria and prevent it from building up in the mouth. Because of that, bad breath will result, and over time, this build-up of bacteria can lead to plaque. Plaque can then lead to cavities, periodontitis and serious tooth decay.
Continued studies need to be conducted to further study the implications of electronic cigarettes on the oral and overall health of their users. However, it is safe to say that the only safe alternative to smoking is quite simply not to smoke at all.
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