Does vaping cause caries? Another layer to the complex issue of e-cigarettes

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  Posted by: The Probe      4th July 2020

Discussions around vaping are becoming more prevalent in daily practice. We are being asked by patients, “Are vapes any better than cigarettes?” or “I read that someone died because they vaped, is this true?”. The conversation is being had between colleagues whether we should be recommending the use of e-cigarettes.

Towards the end of last year, a cluster of deaths in the US were linked to vaping-related lung illnesses, which led to international headlines. Anyone who has started to dig deeper into vaping will have realised the complexity of the subject. For one, there are few long-term studies available. Additionally, the laws, regulations and culture around vaping is different in the UK than it is in America, where much of the negativity and warnings surrounding the use of e-cigarettes originates.

If any of your patients are using an e-cigarette, or you are talking to them about smoking cessation, they probably have concerns. In the UK, vaping has increased as smoking has declined and the proportion of ex-smokers who use an e-cigarette as a replacement product has also grown. Figures from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) have indicated that 54.1% of regular vapers are ex-smokers and nearly 40% are dual use, using an e-cigarette to reduce their cigarette use.[i]

It is no secret that smoking has a significant impact on general and oral health. Tobacco smoking is an independent risk factor for the “initiation, extent and severity of periodontal disease”.[ii] It can lead to tooth loss, halitosis, stained teeth and is a main cause of mouth cancer. Smokers who want to stop need all the support that dental care practitioners are uniquely positioned to give. The NHS states that, although e-cigarettes aren’t “risk free”, they can be effective as part of a stop-smoking programme.

Vaping and caries

The negative news we’ve seen about vaping is often concerned with lung-based diseases, but what about dental implications? There has been a rise in anecdotal reports featuring patients at low caries risk developing new carious legions since they started vaping. Dental professionals doing their own reading might have seen the 2018 study that looked at the link between vaping and caries.[iii] This US-based work investigated what happened when tooth surfaces were exposed to e-cigarette aerosols with “similar physio-chemical properties as high-sucrose, gelatinous candies and acidic drinks”. It found that sweet-flavoured e-cigarettes interact with the teeth in a way that resembles how high-sucrose snacks and sweet, acidic drinks do, concluding that not only do e-cigarettes negatively affect the respiratory and cardiac systems but they can also have significant implications on oral health. 

Dental caries affects nearly half the world’s population.[iv] The issue of caries – cause, prevalence and impact – is complex everywhere, including in the UK.  When discussing with our patients we need to be aware of as many factors as possible. The correlation between socioeconomic inequalities on caries occurrence is particularly concerning, especially when it affects children, who lose the benefits of a healthy start to life that everyone deserves.

In a letter to the BDJ earlier in the same year, the writer asked readers to consider the cariogenicity of “e-liquids (that) contain a mixture of various chemicals including sucrose, aqueous glycerine and artificial flavourings” and are delivered to the oral cavity via vapour from the e-cigarette.[v] The letter stated these issues were particularly relevant because “vaping has become especially popular with teenagers and young adults”.

Figures from ASH, however, don’t appear to confirm this; just 0.1% of 11-18-year olds who have never smoked, vape more than once a week and not one said they vape every day.[vi] Again, we look over to the US to see a different picture. In January, the US banned candy, mint, fruit and dessert-flavoured e-cigarettes, with the move directly linked to concerns over their growing use among high-school students, who like the sweet taste.[vii] The quality of preventive advice is key to avoiding caries. Listen, engage, inspire and motivate your patients in daily preventive practices; a good diet, regular appointments, correct brushing – recommend the TANDEX range, which includes interdental and UltraSoft options – and smoking cessation. Vaping is still an effective method to wean a smoker off cigarettes. It is not recommended for non-smokers; sweet flavours should be discouraged and once they are confident that they no longer need to smoke tobacco, vaping must also stop.

Vaping is a complex topic and caries is a multi-factorial disease, so dental practitioners must deliver a consistent message supported by evidence. Smoking cessation plays a major role in preventive dentistry, alongside good oral hygiene instruction and diet advice. In order to offer the best preventative advice, it is crucial to stay abreast of new developments in the rapidly progressing evidence base surrounding e-cigarette use and safety.

 

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Author Kimberley Lloyd- Rees on behalf of Tandex

Kimberley graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2010, where she now works as a clinical tutor in Dental Hygiene and Therapy as well as working in practice. She has spent her career working across a variety of specialist private and mixed dental practices, for the MOD and volunteering her time to a dental charity in Nepal.

 

[i] In 2019 around half as many Britons now vape as smoke, and the majority are ex-smokers. ASH press release, 24 September 2019. Link: https://ash.org.uk/media-and-news/press-releases-media-and-news/in-2019-around-half-as-many-britons-now-vape-as-smoke-and-the-majority-are-ex-smokers/ (accessed March 2020).

[ii] Borojevic, Tea. Smoking and periodontal disease. Materia socio-medica 24.4 (2012): 274.

[iii] Kim SA, Smith S, Beauchamp C, Song Y, Chiang M, Giuseppetti A, Frukhtbeyn S, Shaffer I, Wilhide J, Routkevitch D, Ondov JM. Cariogenic potential of sweet flavors in electronic-cigarette liquids. PloS one. 2018 Sep 7;13 (9): e0203717.

[iv] World Health Organization. Oral health. Key Facts, published 24 September 2018. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/oral-health (accessed March 2020).

[v] Umerji S. Cariogenicity of e-cigarettes. British Dental Journal. 2018 Jan; 224(1): 4.

[vi] ASH. Use of e-cigarettes among young people in Great Britain. Published June 2019. Link: https://ash.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/ASH-Factsheet-Youth-E-cigarette-Use-2019.pdf

[vii] US announces countrywide ban on flavoured e-cigs. BBC News, 2 January 2020. Link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50978321 (accessed March 2020).


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