It’s hard to go anywhere these days without being confronted by a cloud of vape smoke. E-cigarettes aren’t exactly new anymore, and over the past five years or so they’ve become an increasingly common part of everyday life. Despite a concerning lack of clinical evidence or research in general, many users believe e-cigarettes represent a healthy alternative to cigarettes.
Now, a new study conducted at New York University’s School of Dentistry finds that vaping will literally change the bacterial composition in one’s mouth, leaving them that much more susceptible to inflammation and infection.
As more time passes, the medical community is continually discovering additional harmful side effects associated with e-cigarette use. A number of troubling findings regarding their effect on lung functioning have already come to light. This study, however, is the first-ever to definitively show that vaping changes an individual’s oral microbiome, or community of bacteria and microorganisms.
The idea of millions of microscopic bacteria living in our mouths isn’t exactly a pleasant thought, but the truth is these microorganisms are essential to a healthy mouth and smile. Furthermore, our mouths hold many microbial species that also make their way down towards, and colonize, our respiratory and digestive tracts. These gut bacteria are even more important when it comes to overall strong health.
“Given the popularity of vaping, it is critical that we learn more about the effects of e-cigarette aerosols on the oral microbiome and host inflammatory responses in order to better understand the impact of vaping on human health,” says study co-author Xin Li, Ph.D., associate professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at NYU College of Dentistry, in a press release.
Anyone who has ever had a root canal operation knows all too well how agonizing dental problems can be, but the bacterial disruptions that vaping can cause in the mouth may also lead to far more serious, and life-threatening issues.
“The oral microbiome is of interest to us because research shows that changes in its microbial community as a result of environmental and host factors contribute to a range of health issues, including cavities, gum disease, halitosis, and medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers,” explains co-author Deepak Saxena, Ph.D., professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at NYU College of Dentistry.
In all, 119 study subjects were brought in for the research. Each person submitted a saliva sample and consented to an oral examination. Among that group, a third consisted of regular e-cigarette users, a third were cigarette smokers, and the last group avoided smoking altogether. Gum disease and oral infection were seen most prominently in the group of cigarette smokers (72.5%), but the e-cigarette users also had a high rate of oral problems (42.5%). Non-smokers had the fewest number of oral issues (28.2%).
Then, participants’ oral microbiomes were examined and analyzed using their saliva samples. Across the board, all three groups of participants had different microorganisms in their saliva. One example is an abundance of Porphyromonas bacteria seen in e-cigarette users, and larger than average amounts of Veillonella bacteria in both cigarette smokers and e-cigarette users.
“The predominance of these periodontal pathogens in the mouths of e-cigarette users and traditional smokers is a reflection of compromised periodontal health,” Li explains.
Additionally, e-cigarette smokers’ mouths were found to be much more susceptible to inflammation and infection. All in all, these findings lead to the clear conclusion that vaping seriously compromises oral immune health, leaving users much more vulnerable to infections and gum problems.
“Our study suggests that vaping electronic cigarettes causes shifts in the oral environment and highly influences the colonization of complex microbial biofilms, which raises the risk for oral inflammation and infection,” Saxena concludes.
For individuals struggling with a cigarette habit, e-cigarettes and vaping devices can seem like a great alternative. However, it’s important we all realize that these devices still carry a great deal of health risks and are by no means a completely safe smoking option.
The full study can be found here, published in iScience.