Did you know that one of the single most destructive habits for your oral health (and overall health) is using tobacco products? Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco have been linked to gum disease, oral cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and many other health problems. Quitting just this one habit (easier said than done of course) reduces your risk of all these types of diseases more significantly than just about anything else you can do.
About 4-5 years ago I started seeing more and more of my patients switch to vaping with e-cigarettes instead of smoking regular cigarettes in order to get their nicotine fix. When I would bring up the topic with them they’d always tell me that vaping was a lot safer than smoking because it was just “water vapor” coming out and not smoke.
As usual, I had to do more research to find out.
Finding research on vaping is tough mostly because it is such a new phenomenon. There simply aren’t any long term studies on vaping that are needed to make a definite link between vaping and all the various health conditions. What some of the studies have looked at is what the immediate effect vaping has on different cells in the body.
Study #1: In a study published in Oncotarget in October 2016, researchers compared the cellular effects of regular tobacco smoke to that of a menthol flavored e-cigarette vapor. Their results? E-cigarette vapor was just as damaging to cells as regular tobacco smoke. It appeared that the chemicals that flavor the liquid were especially responsible for the damage.
Study #2: In another study published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology in November 2016, researchers tested e-cigarette vapor on specific cultures of cells that are typically found on the surface tissue of the mouth known as epithelial cells. They pumped this vapor into the culture to simulate about 15 minutes of exposure to the chemicals over the course of a day. Cells not exposed to the vapor only had about 2% of the cells die over the course of three days. Cells exposed to vapor had significantly higher death rates. 18% died on Day 1, 40% were dead on Day 2, and 53% were dead on Day 3. That is a huge amount of damage to the cells.
Study #3: This last study looked at the the levels of toxins and carcinogens present in the body in both regular smokers as well as those who had been vaping alone. They found that the levels of both toxins and carcinogens were much lower in people who only vaped.
So here is what we definitely know…
We’ve known for a long time that nicotine itself (not just all the other chemicals in tobacco) is a risk factor for gum disease. E-cigarettes contain just as much nicotine as regular cigarettes and therefore can help contribute to gum disease.
The combination of flavoring chemicals and nicotine in e-cigarettes appears to be at least as harmful to cells in the mouth as regular smoking and may possibly be even more damaging.
Vapor from e-cigarettes is highly toxic to the epithelial cells that line your mouth. Repeated cell damage is bad not only for the short term health of your gum tissue but also for their long term health. We know that repeated damage to cells can cause them to change and turn into cancerous cells.
The studies are a bit mixed as to what the actual effect of vaping is on your body. We likely won’t know all the long term consequences for several decades. It appears that vaping can do some significant damage to the tissues in your mouth. It also appears that vaping exposes the rest of your body to far fewer harmful chemicals than regular smoking.
Vaping may be somewhat better than regular smoking but it is very likely that there will still be long term consequences from consistent use. I’d highly recommend cutting back or quitting as soon as possible. If you need help quitting, seek out help from a professional, friends, or online communities. There are a lot of resources out there to help you get through it.