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‘It is not harmless:’ Dentists voice concern over vaping

This story is part of Vape Fail, a CBC News series examining some of the policy failures that led to the adoption of vaping as a smoking alternative and the resulting health and societal consequences.

While lung injuries related to vaping continue to raise concerns among doctors, many people don’t know the impact vaping can have on your teeth and mouth. And it’s alarming dentists.

That’s because nicotine is the main ingredient found in e-juices. While the amounts can vary among different products, e-juices also contain chemicals. When mixed and heated, the juices becomes an aerosol that experts say can be toxic to your teeth.

“It is not harmless,” said Prof. Mahmoud Rouabhia, an immunologist in the faculty of dentistry at Laval University in Quebec City.

Rouabhia and his team have been studying the dental impact of vaping for several years.

In a paper published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology in 2016, Rouabhia and his researchers took cells from a healthy mouth and exposed them to e-cigarettes or vape products. At the time, he thought that vaping would be much less harmful than smoking. But he has discovered that the vapour from e-cigarettes led to cell death in gum tissue after just two exposures.

“When we did that experiment and we saw there was some damage or some strange effect of the electric cigarette, we moved on from a positive feeling to a negative feeling,” Rouabhia said.

Glogauer points to gums that show the effect of vaping. (CBC)

Comparatively speaking, he said, it was not as bad as cigarette smoking, but it was clearly harmful. Repeated experiments confirmed Rouabhia’s findings. What’s more, they also found that vaping delayed wound healing in the mouth.

“Cells are suffering. Gingival [gum] cells are suffering,” he said.

The concerns dentists have around vaping are similar to those they raise around traditional cigarettes.

Heavy smokers can develop stained teeth and cavities related to gum disease, as well as a coated tongue and even cancer, researchers say. However, as vaping increases, especially among young people. there are still more questions than answers about its long-term health effects.  

“These chemicals that are present may be causing a whole new set of problems that we’re not aware of, and that won’t become apparent for the next five or 10 years,” said Dr. Michael Glogauer, chief of dentistry at the University Health Network in Toronto.

At his clinic, Glogauer displayed two sets of dental photos. One was of a healthy mouth, had white teeth and pink gum tissue with little recession. The other was from a person who vaped and showed significant gum recession, with the teeth looking longer because the roots had been exposed.

‘I don’t worry about it too much’

“We know [e-cigarettes are] killing or causing significant damage to the cells that cover gum tissue, which often leads to the death of the gum tissue and significant exposure of root surfaces,” Glogauer said. This, he adds, is because of the chemicals that are present in vaping.

Still, much of this doesn’t seem to be sinking in with some young people who vape.

“My mom’s a dentist so I don’t worry about it too much. If there’s something, she’ll handle it,” said a student at Ryerson University.

Both Glogauer and Rouabhia want to change that kind of assumption.

“It’s really these [sorts] of patients who are acting as their own sort of guinea pigs,” said Glogauer.

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