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Vaping and Your Oral Health

What is vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The term is used in lieu of "smoking," because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.  Vaping has grown in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which were introduced to the mass market in the U.S. in 2007. There are many types of vaping devices, ranging in price and complexity.  Generally a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or "e-juice," and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.  The e-liquid in vaporizer products usually contains a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid with nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals and metals, but not tobacco. Some people use these devices to vape THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's mind-altering effects, or even synthetic hard drugs like "flakka," instead of nicotine.

What does vaping do?

Vaping is largely a delivery technique for consuming nicotine, the remarkably addictive chemical traditionally associated with tobacco products.  The health risks and benefits of using these relatively new devices and their aerosols are still being evaluated. However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the chemicals in these products may be dangerous. Health advocates are recommending caution in using them and calling for additional research into their potential risks versus benefits.  In 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that "e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don't know the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or whether there are any benefits associated with using these products."

What are some effects of vaping upon oral health?

What is already confirmed from existing research is the effect of the drug nicotine coming in contact with the mouth.  Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it narrows the blood vessels in the area reducing the amount of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood flow they receive, as well as immune cells responsible for attacking infections or foreign bodies.  Additionally, nicotine can have a muscle stimulant effect in many people, exacerbating clenching and grinding and the dental problems they can lead to.  The high heat of vapor as it enters the mouth and chemical properties of nicotine can frequently both cause dry mouth (xerostomia) and tooth sensitivity.  More severe exposure can lead to nicotine stomatitis, a reddened, irritated thickening of the skin tissue in the mouth.  Impaired immune response and dry mouth are a combination that will worsen gum disease.  Vaping companies also produce their e-juices in an astounding menu of artificially sweetened flavors, which can especially appeal to children and teens during the vulnerable years of their development previously targeted by the smoking industry to foment addiction and continued sales.

By Dr. Andrew Danberg-Ficarelli

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