Brightly coloured and packed with sensational flavours from watermelon strawberry to cotton candy, vapes are a big hit among young people. They are also actively encouraged as part of the government’s plan in England to get 6 million smokers to quit by 2030. While vaping can help heavy smokers reduce nicotine intake, it also has a dark side, especially when taken up by those who do not smoke. Health experts have raised alarm at a youth vaping ‘epidemic’ in the UK. Aside from lung damage and long-term addiction, vaping can deteriorate oral and dental health. Exactly how? Let’s find out.
Rising popularity of vaping in the UK
Research shows that more children in the UK now vape than smoke. Teenage vaping has tripled in the last three years. Driven by marketing and flavouring that target young people, a worrying trend of vaping by teenagers has emerged. Figures from the 2023 Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) survey of young vapers in England, Scotland and Wales suggest children experimenting with vapes, which is trying them once or twice, is up 50% from the 2022 survey.
Health advice clearly states young people and people who have never smoked should not vape. Disposable vapes are a new trend in vaping. They are cheaper than a pack of cigarettes and ready for use. Once used up, they get discarded. These sometimes hold more than the recommended amount of vape liquids. Under UK law, the maximum allowed nicotine content for vapes is 2% and only 2 ml of e-liquid.
Currently, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. It includes vapes. The new laws aim to prohibit selling tobacco products to children turning 14 this year or younger. The government plans to raise the legal age for buying tobacco each year.
Vaping and dental health
E-cigarettes contain 3 main ingredients – a carrier solution (propylene glycol and or vegetable glycerin), nicotine (some e-cigarettes are nicotine-free), and flavourings. The nicotine vapour is less harmful than cigarettes. However, smoking or vaping affects the microbiome in our mouths, making users more prone to inflammation and infection. Changes in the microbial community contribute to various oral health issues, including cavities, gum disease, halitosis and medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers.
Researchers studying the bacteria present in plaque samples discovered that e-cigarette users have a distinct oral microbiome compared to smokers and non-smokers. Although all three groups shared roughly a fifth of the same types of bacteria, the bacterial composition in e-cigarette users was strikingly similar to that of cigarette users as opposed to non-smokers.
The impact of vaping on dental and oral wellbeing includes;
Dry mouth – vaping can lead to a condition known as xerostomia or dry mouth due to nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols. It can reduce saliva production, which is essential for maintaining oral health. Saliva helps neutralise acids, clean the oral cavity and protect against tooth decay.
Tooth decay – dry mouth and reduced saliva flow can increase the risk of tooth decay (cavities). Without enough saliva to wash away food particles and neutralise acids, harmful bacteria in the mouth can thrive and produce acids that erode tooth enamel.
Periodontal disease – vaping may irritate and damage gum tissue, increasing the risk of gum disease. It leads to conditions such as gingivitis and periodontitis. Nicotine, a common component in e-cigarettes, can reduce blood flow to the gums, impairing the ability of the gums to heal and defend against infections.
Tooth sensitivity – vape liquids often contain acidic compounds and flavourings that can erode tooth enamel over time. This erosion can lead to increased tooth sensitivity and discomfort.
Staining – nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes can stain teeth over time, resulting in discolouration and a less attractive smile.
Bad breath – dry mouth and chemicals in e-cigarette aerosols can contribute to bad breath (halitosis).
Oral cancer – while the risk is lower compared to traditional cigarette smoking, some studies have suggested a possible association between vaping and an increased risk of oral cancer. The long-term effects of vaping on oral cancer risk are still under review.
Complications after dental procedures – vaping can potentially lead to complications after dental procedures, as it may interfere with the body’s natural healing processes. For instance, dry mouth can slow the healing of oral wounds or surgical sites.
Preventing vaping-related dental health issues
Vaping has helped millions of people quit traditional cigarettes. However, it can still be addictive and harmful to health. The National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) generally recommends a gradual approach to giving up vaping.
One helpful tip for vapers looking to quit is to gradually reduce e-liquid nicotine strength over 2-4 weeks, working down to 0%. It is a bit challenging with disposable vapes, as they tend to come in higher concentrations. Despite this, it is worth noting that zero-nicotine versions are available, and the NCSCT recommends using them alongside your regular vape to assist in the process of quitting smoking.
Other strategies that help reduce your vaping intake include:
- Extend the time between puffs.
- Take shorter puffs, especially if you use a disposable vape.
- Avoid buying bigger vapes with thousands of puffs.
- Set rules for yourself, like only vaping outside your home.
Another option is Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), which includes patches, gum, and sprays instead of vaping. It is also helpful to identify triggers and distract yourself with other activities like going for a jog.
Other measures to minimise the negative effects of vaping include;
Staying hydrated – if you continue to vape, try to stay well-hydrated. Drinking water can help combat dry mouth caused by vaping and stimulate saliva production, which is essential for oral health.
Maintaining good oral hygiene – follow a strict cleaning regime, including brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing daily. Use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel and protect against cavities. Consider using an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash to reinforce protection against cavities.
Chewing sugar-free gum or mints – they help stimulate saliva production and alleviate dry mouth.
Regular dental check-ups – schedule regular dental exams and hygienist treatments as they can monitor your oral health and address any emerging issues promptly.
Limiting acidic and sugary drinks – many vaping liquids are flavoured, and some contain acidic compounds that can erode tooth enamel. Limit consumption of acidic and sugary beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay and sensitivity.
Practicing good vaping hygiene – keep your vaping device clean and sanitised to reduce the risk of introducing harmful bacteria into your mouth.
Educating yourself – Stay informed about the potential risks of vaping and its impact on oral health. Being aware of these risks can motivate you to make healthier choices.
Seeking professional help – if you’re experiencing dental health issues due to vaping, your dentist can provide specific recommendations and treatments to address your concerns.
Comprehensive Dental Care at Nine Elms
Mouth Clinics offer the latest dental care in state-of-the-art environments in three prime locations in London. Our clinic at Nine Elms has recent expertise in oral surgery, endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics, and paediatrics. It is the only dental practice in the area with a resident specialist in Oral Surgery and Pediatrics. We are also the only clinic in the area to have a Teaching suite on-site with attached surgery dedicated to professional knowledge and skill development through a wide variety of dental courses. Do you vape? And are you experiencing its adverse oral effects?