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August 05, 2015  | by Gina

E-Cigarettes: Their Threat to Your General and Dental Health

The general public is getting wise to the multitude of threats to health that cigarettes and cigars pose to both smokers and those who inhale second-hand smoke. Over half a century of research has shown the detriments of the habit: heart and pulmonary disease, many forms of cancer, and the #1 cause of periodontal disease and tooth loss. However, while cigarette smoking appears to be on the decline, a new trend has rushed to the forefront: e-cigarettes.

The e-cigarette, or, “electronic cigarette,” operates on battery power. They convert a liquid, containing nicotine and propylene glycol, to a vapor that can be inhaled and exhaled like a cigarette (the process is called “vaping,”) but without the burning of tobacco. This “smokeless” aspect of the e-cigarette might give the general impression that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. Many e-cigarettes are sold under the guise of an alternative to cigarettes, as an aid to quit the habit. However, the detriments or benefits of e-cigarettes are as yet almost completely without study or review of any kind. No studies currently in existence show that they can help people to kick the habit. The long-term effects of inhaling either propylene glycol, or nicotine in this manner, as as yet unknown. The FDA is currently unable to regulate the devices (also known as ENDS - electronic nicotine delivery systems), and is moving forward very slowly to extend their control.

While government and research facilities have just begun to address the issue, the battery-powered devices - many of which are even rechargeable via USB port, making them strangely alluring to a tech-savvy youthful population - seem to be catching on at an alarming rate. The use of ENDS with the population under 20 has tripled or even quadrupled in less than five years. A third of the users are female, and most of those are under 17 years old. Most e-cigarettes also come with a flavoring added, and each flavored cartridge is packaged in a “candy-like” way that appeals to the younger population, who are in fact buying them at the fastest rate. Products are also being produced to help conceal the carrying of the device, such as e-cigarettes camouflaged as the ends of string in a hooded sweatshirt, and are almost certainly aimed at a younger market. Statewide, 40 of the 50 states have adopted laws to ban the sale of ENDS to minors, but the use continues to increase.

Nicotine has been proven as a carcinogen, even when isolated from smoke. The dental effects include gingivitis, periodontitis, and xerostomia (dry mouth, which increases dental caries risk). Nicotine is also highly addictive, and it is speculated that far from assisting habitual smokers to quit, they may help to bring more of the population into the habit. Additionally, formaldehyde is produced in the process of “vaping” - another known carcinogen - and inhaled by the user and by those in the immediate vicinity as well.

While the long-term effects of ENDS are unknown, these known pieces of the whole make it almost certain that detrimental effects exist from their use. Time and research will tell, not whether or not the products are harmful, but only the degree of harm they will incur.

For additional reading, see the article “Dangerous Liasons,” AGD Impact, May 2015,

or visit www.agd.org.