Many people have thought that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. That may very well be, but there are reasons to be concerned about their impact on oral health. The explosions of e-cigarettes, while rare, are not an inconsiderable danger. And then there’s the risk that they may actually lead to tobacco use, which is part of the reason why the FDA banned their sales to minors recently.
But now for the first time, we have evidence that e-cigarette smoking in and of itself may be harmful to the gums. The full extent of the damage is hard to calculate at this point, but now we know that there is potential for injury related to e-cigarette use.
Vapor and Flavoring Damage Gum Tissue
This study, conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center and published in the journal Oncotarget took healthy human gum tissue from nonsmokers and exposed it to vapors of e-cigarettes. They found that the exposure triggered an inflammatory and stress response in the gum tissue. Inflammatory responses occur when a tissue is damaged and needs to heal. It’s associated with wounds, infection, and with toxic exposures.
Although inflammation is a healing response, it comes with a cost. In gum tissue, inflammation makes gum tissue less robust, and more likely to die. Inflammation is a key step in processes of gum disease that lead to receding gums and, ultimately bone loss and tooth loss. They also detected inflammation-mediated damage to DNA in gum tissue. This is the type of process that may link gum disease to increased risk of many types of cancer.
All these types of inflammatory responses were increased by the flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes, too, meaning that more damage is done by the flavored cigarettes.
Nicotine’s Impact on Gum Tissue
It’s also important to remember that many e-cigarettes contain the most active ingredient in tobacco: nicotine. Nicotine is the stimulant responsible for both the high experienced by smokers and the addictiveness of tobacco.
Nicotine is also very bad for your gum tissue. Nicotine leads to the constriction and even death of blood vessels supplying the gums with vital nutrients. It can also trigger inflammation. It can impair the function of some types of immune cells and can lead to connective tissue damage,
Overall, this increases the risk that those exposed to nicotine will develop gum disease, and will experience negative consequences of gum disease, such as receding gums and tooth loss.
Use E-Cigs in Moderation
Although we don’t yet have enough information to recommend quitting e-cigarette use, we do have at least enough hints to say that if you want to preserve your oral health and avoid the need for dental implants, it might be best not to overuse e-cigs. And if you do use e-cigs, make sure you are taking good care of your oral health, with proper oral hygiene and regular checkups.
If you are looking for a Columbus, OH dentist who can help maintain your oral health and advise you about making good lifestyle choices, please call (614) 848-5001 today for an appointment with Dr. Mike Firouzian at the Center for Family & Cosmetic Dentistry.