Since e-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, especially compared to the traditional cigarette, research is ongoing to determine the actual effects they have on the human body, especially the mouth and teeth. Results are starting to be published, however, as studies are completed. Recently, an experiment sponsored by the American Dental Association detailed what happens to tooth enamel, and the oral bacteria on it, when it is exposed to e-cigarette aerosols that contain sweet flavors. The results indicate that vaping flavored liquids may lead to cavities.
Problem #1: E-cigarette Aerosol is Sticky
When the liquids used in e-cigarettes are turned into an aerosol, the resulting vapor is actually very sticky, or viscous. Because of this, e-cigarette aerosols completely cover and stick closely to tooth enamel for a long time. This has two negative effects. The first is that the sticky aerosol layer helps bacteria make their way into the tiny cracks and pockmarks that are found on the enamel’s surface. The second is that it holds the components of the aerosol against the teeth for much longer than normal. Since the sweet and sour flavors of vaping liquids are acidic, the flavorings tend to dissolve the enamel.
Problem #2: the Aerosol Makes Enamel Weaker
Five different types of flavoring components common in e-cigarette liquids were tested: sucralose, ethyl butyrate, triacetin, hexyl acetate and ethyl maltol. After exposing tooth enamel to these substances with e-cigarette aerosols, scientists tested the surface strength of the teeth. In every case, the hardness of the enamel was reduced by anywhere from 6% to 27%, a significant difference. This is bad news for e-cigarette users, because oral bacteria more readily damage softer enamel.
Problem #3: the Flavors Encourage Plaque Development
Every flavor ingredient but one, ethyl maltol (commonly called “sugar alcohol” and typically used for cotton candy flavors), increased the growth of bacterial biofilm, or plaque. Since plaque protects bacteria from being damaged in the oral environment, the more plaque that is present, the more bacteria that can grow and thrive in the mouth. Keep in mind that even though ethyl maltol reduced plaque growth, it still shares the other negative characteristics of e-cigarette flavored liquids.
Based on these results using actual human teeth, the scientists believe that vaping with flavored liquids can lead to a greater incidence of cavities. The study demonstrates that just as our Sacramento dental patients need to rinse their mouth with water after drinking sugary drinks or eating candy, they need to do the same after a vaping session with flavored liquids. When it comes to e-cigarettes, their effect on teeth is similar to, or even worse than, drinking a soda, eating sour candies, or chewing on sticky sweets and treats.