E-cigarette vaping may increase risk for cavities and tooth decay

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E-cigarette vaping may increase risk for cavities and tooth decay

A person's risk for cavities and tooth decay is linked to vaping, according to new research.

Dr. Karina Irusa, an assistant professor of comprehensive care at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, said the aerosolized e-liquid used in vape pens may cover teeth in a sugary sticky film that promotes bacteria growth, like going to bed sucking on a lollipop.

Addition of artificial sweeteners and flavorings to the sticky aerosol may create the perfect breeding ground for cavities. Irusa said that the bacteria feeds on the sugar.

But because e-cigarette usage is so rampant among adolescents - with 2.5 million teens vaping in the United States alone - the possibility that it could increase the risk for tooth decay in this generation is worrying, according to experts who study vaping in young people.

Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, said that young people are vaping 24-7. The teens told us, anecdotally, that they'll wake up in the middle of the night and take hits, said Halpern-Felsher, who was not involved in the new study. They keep their vape under their pillow and vape all night. The Tufts research focused on mostly adult patients seeking treatment at the school's dental clinic. Just 136 of 13,216 patients said they vaped.

Many patients were already considered high risk for tooth decay because of factors like diet or other oral health issues.

Among these high-risk patients, Irusa found that e-cigarette users were at a significantly higher risk of developing cavities than those who did not vape.

The researchers suggested that people who vape may need specific treatments, such as prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash.

Previous research from Irusa's team suggested that decay associated with e-cigarette use may form in an unusual area: on the tips of front teeth.

Those areas are not often affected because they're easier to clean. They're easier to access, Irusa said. I think the stickiness of the aerosol may be the main culprit. This is exactly what we thought would happen, said Dr. Purnima Kumar, chair of the Department of Periodontology and Oral Medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Kumar was not involved in the new study but published a separate study in 2020 that found e-cigarette usage completely and quickly altered a person's oral microbiome.

These people had changed their oral health profiles at the molecular level within six months of use, Kumar said. After five years of smoking regular cigarettes, there were changes that we would only see.

The e-cigarette users had different kinds of oral bacteria that thrive on heated e-liquid ingredients, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which add nicotine and sweet flavors to vapes.

Bacteria are always looking for food. She said you can vape today, and your bacteria are still feeding off of your vape for the next 10 hours.