Vaping might look cool to some. More than a few people might say that it’s a healthier option than smoking tobacco. But the mouth tells a different story.
And the oral effects of vaping can happen fast – in as little as 24 hours, according to one recent study of 123 healthy adults. Some were smokers and some were not. Some used e-cigarettes and some both vaped and smoked. Yet others were former smokers who had turned to e-cigarettes.
The researchers analyzed bacterial samples taken from below each participant’s gumline and found that samples from vapers looked like they had severe gum disease and were coated in a layer of slime. This is a problem, explained senior author Purnima Kumar in a news release.
The immune system is used to seeing assembled bacteria look like clearly defined communities, but Kumar said that in e-cigarette users, these communities cloaked in slime look like foreign invaders and trigger a destructive inflammatory response.
She said this change in the microbial landscape – accompanied by higher levels of proteins in vapers’ mouths that signaled the immune system was on standby to activate and produce inflammation – exponentially increases the likelihood for disease.
Another recent study also looked at the effects of vaping on the oral microbiome and likewise found that it changes the microbial balance of the mouth in ways that make the body more prone to inflammation and infection. Not only did the research team find higher levels of bacteria associated with gum disease; they found
that the altered microbiome in e-cigarette users influenced the local host immune environment compared to non-smokers and cigarette smokers. IL-6 and IL1β—cytokines involved in inflammatory responses—were highly elevated in e-cigarette users. Cell studies also showed upregulation of IL-6 after exposure to e-cigarette aerosols, resulting in an elevated inflammatory response. Moreover, e-cigarette aerosols made cells prone to bacterial infection, which points to a greater risk for infection in e-cigarette users.
But wait! There’s more!
With vaping, you get a lot more than the aerosolized juice when you inhale. A 2018 paper in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that you may also get a dose of toxic metals that seem to leak from the heating coils.
Our findings indicate that e-cigarettes are a potential source of exposure to toxic metals [chromium, nickel, and lead], and to metals that are toxic when inhaled [magnesium and zinc]. Markedly higher concentrations in the aerosol and tank samples versus the dispenser demonstrate that coil contact induced e-liquid contamination.
Those metal levels, noted one of the researchers in a news release, “often were much higher than safe limits.” And what can those metals do in the mouth? According to one 2017 paper, exposure to toxic metals
may adversely affect soft tissues, teeth, the saliva secretion process or taste sensations. There is also risk of developmental defects of the facial skeleton, particularly the cleft palate and impaired tooth buds mineralization.
Then there’s the matter of toxins coming from the juice itself. A 2018 JAMA study found that while levels of tobacco-like toxins were lower in those who used e-cigarettes only compared to smokers and dual users, there was still significant exposure to harmful compounds, including nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
This hardly sounds like a healthier option. And definitely not cool.
Image by Ecig Click, via Wikimedia Commons