Tobacco use among teenagers continues to be a problem, despite warnings about the dangers of nicotine and recent deaths among teens due to e-cigarettes. Although vaping is thought to be less harmful than cigarettes, it still has tremendous oral and systemic health risks. Vaping is the most common form among youths (over 3.6 million reported underage users in 2018) and these products are known by many different slang names including e-cigs, vapes, mods, or Juuls. E-cigarettes are often cleverly designed to look like pens, lipstick tubes or flash drives and come in a variety of flavors to entice young consumers.
How does it work? E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid, called e-liquid, is usually made up of propylene glycol (PG), glycerin and flavorings, and nicotine, although some users will substitute THC for nicotine.
What are the systemic health risks? Other than the known effects on the lungs, nicotine exposure damages adolescent brain development (learning, attention, impulse control). Nicotine also contributes to the hardening of the arterial walls, which in turn, may lead to a cardiac event. Aside from the toxicity of the ingredients in e-cigarettes, there have been severe injuries caused by explosions while using the devices causing oral and facial disfigurement.
What are the oral health risks? When used orally, the breakdown products of PG include acetic acid, lactic acid, and propionaldehyde, which are all toxic to enamel and soft tissue. It also causes dry mouth, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. The other major components, glycerin and flavorings, cause the e-liquid to become more viscous, which allows more cavity-causing bacteria to stick to a softer tooth and can lead to rampant decay. In addition, nicotine decreases connective tissue cell turnover so there much higher chance of developing gum disease and tooth loss.
The bottom line? There is no safe nicotine. The best choice to protect your health in the short and long-term is to quit or never begin smoking. Get more information about e-cigarettes at Lung.org/ecigs and get help to quit at Lung.org/stop-smoking and Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA. The OrthoBee Orthodontics has been a supporter of anti-smoking programs in Orange County.
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