E-Cigs: Vaping and your teeth

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RBC | “E-Cigs, Vaping, Vapes, Vape pen, Juul…” the nicknames go on. What is this, you ask? An e-cigarette is the new trending epidemic to hit adults and youth, even as young as middle school and elementary age kids. A typical battery-operated e-cigarette contains a cartridge of e-cig liquid, or “juice,” which usually contains nicotine and the chemical propylene glycol. An array of “juice” flavors including cola, bubblegum, chocolate, watermelon are known to attract younger users. This juice has different amounts of the addictive stimulant nicotine, from zero to about 72 milligrams per milliliter of liquid. A traditional cigarette has 10-15 milligrams. Consumers can easily buy e-cigarettes that resemble USB flash drives, pens or regular cigarettes. How does it work? The e-cig contains a battery that activates a heating device, atomizing liquid nicotine inside a cartridge producing a vapor that is inhaled.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the volume of consumers is skyrocketing quickly with high school and middle school students creating a climb in these numbers. Recent studies indicate roughly 3 million high school kids are currently using e-cigarettes, up from 1.7 million last year, reaching epidemic proportions. The CDC did a National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2016 and the most commonly selected reasons for use were: No. 1: Used by “friend or family members” (39 percent), No. 2: Availability of “flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate” (31 percent) and No. 3: The belief that “they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes” (17 percent). Roughly 10.8 million American adults are currently using e-cigarettes.

Let’s get real for a moment and talk about the harmful facts about vaping. The term—vaping rather than smoking—is used because e-cigs don’t produce tobacco smoke. No tobacco does not mean no nicotine. Since nicotine is delivered via vaping, all the health problems associated with nicotine are still there. The Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarettes can contain nicotine, heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain. Nicotine also has negative effects on the oral health harming the mouth, gums and tongue. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces the amount of blood that can flow through your veins. Without sufficient blood flow, the gums do not get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy, contributing significantly to the development of gingivitis and periodontitis (ie: ongoing bad breath, red, irritated or bleeding gums, tender or swollen gums, wiggly teeth, loss of teeth and recession of gum tissue) and infection not only in the oral cavity but in the entire body. Nicotine can mask symptoms of gum disease, cause reduction in saliva production leading to bacterial build-up, dry mouth and tooth decay. In addition, it can intensify grinding because nicotine stimulates the muscles and when left untreated, it can lead to tooth damage and other oral health complications. Additionally, nicotine is an addictive substance that is also a carcinogen and a carcinogen is simply a substance that’s known to cause cancer.

Let’s talk about the chemical concerns. As previously mentioned, the liquid in most e-cigs contain propylene glycol. When that chemical is heated, it can degrade into formaldehyde, a chemical linked to nose and eye irritation, and an increased risk of asthma and cancer. The Center for Environmental Health tested 97 e-cig products and found formaldehyde and the chemical acetaldehyde in more than half of them. E-cig vapor can also contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, nickel, tin and others, which can cause nervous system or respiratory problems. In addition, some flavoring chemicals, like those to create cinnamon flavor, can be toxic.

As an oral health care provider, it is my duty and passion to educate our community to the health risks of vaping and inform you that it is happening right here in Rio Blanco County. I encourage parents to have conversations with their children about e-cigarettes and the health risks associated with using and secondhand exposure. Let’s take a stand and push e-cig usage out of our community. For more information, support or questions please feel free to contact our local Public Health Department, your physician or your dental provider.

By KARI BRENNAN, RDH | Special to the Herald Times

Kari Brennan is a registered dental hygienist and the owner of White River Dental Hygiene, 970-878-9967, www.wrdh.care.