Vaping Is Risky -- But Doing This Could Make It Even More Harmful

by Amber Leventry
Evgeniy Kleymenov / EyeEm/ Getty

I remember learning all about the dangers of smoking while I was a student in my small town elementary school. Photos of tar lung, yellow fingers, tooth decay, and gum disease were shown in plenty. Adults did everything in their power to promote a smoke-free life. Meanwhile most of us had parents or family members who smoked a pack a day. And many of us later snuck cigarettes from packs left on dressers or living room end tables to only pick up the habit too.

Smoking is still bad for you, and kids are still bumming smokes from their parents. But people are also vaping and doing it with the assumption that vape pens, or e-cigarettes, are a better alternative than cigarettes; they might be better, but they still are not good for you.

Vaping works by inhaling an aerosol that has been produced by an electronically heated up a liquid; while vape pens have their advantages over cigarettes—fewer toxins, low risk from secondhand smoke, cheaper after the initial investment of the e-cigarette—the chemicals inhaled are still dangerous.

Studies have already shown that the nicotine in vape liquid and the way it is absorbed into the body is damaging to teens’ brain development and overall health. Nicotine and the other chemicals—propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin and flavorings—inhaled while vaping are also damaging to your and your teen’s oral health.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the use of vape pens with high school students increased 78% from 2017-2018 and increased 48% with middle schoolers. The rebel factor of smoking along with the ability to carry what looks like a flash drive or some other technological device that parents may not recognize contribute to the high rate of use. The variety of tasty flavors appeals to youth use too. Vaping tastes good, gives teens the addicting hits of nicotine, and makes them feel cool.

But looking cool may mean your mouth will look a mess.

The nicotine percentage in vape pens is lower than in traditional tobacco products, but there is still more than enough to cause gum disease and tooth loss. Nicotine causes gums to recede which decreases blood flow to the gums. Poor blood circulation limits the mouth’s natural to fight damaging bacteria and leads to periodontal disease. And because nicotine is also addictive, the user will continue to fill their body with other chemicals that will rot their mouth. The propylene glycol (PG) acts as the carrier of the nicotine in the e-liquid when it is inhaled. The byproducts of PG are acids toxic to tooth enamel and soft tissue. It can also cause “dry mouth” which is known to cause cavities, gum disease, and oral health nightmares.

Glycerin and the added flavors that give vape e-liquids their taste combine to create a film on teeth while causing enamel softening. Cavity-causing bacteria stay on the weakened tooth and lead to decay. Gross.

This is bad in and of itself but add the dental damage from vaping to the oral health problems teens are accumulating with another popular vice and it’s kind of amazing kids have teeth. Show me a teenager and I will show you the sports or energy drink they just spent $4 on. The caffeine is not great, the electrolytes and calories are unnecessary (even for high school athletes), and the sugar is causing tooth decay—because it’s not like people are stopping to brush their teeth after their Full Throttle.

It may seem harmless and just teens being teens, but the combination of vaping and guzzling energy drinks is one that will have damaging and lifelong effects on their oral hygiene.

To reduce the appeal of vaping among younger smokers, some stores won’t sell the fun flavors of e-liquid. And to reduce the availability of soda and energy drinks at least at school, the American Dental Association opposes “pouring contracts” that link schools with marketing certain soft drinks meant to influence their spending choices.

Dentists give this warning at the end of an article on Perio-Implant Advisory: “In summary, for those of us in the health-care professions, a tidal wave of oral health problems is heading our way.”

The use of vape pens may not cause plaque buildup, tooth discoloration, or bad breath like cigarettes do, but that doesn’t mean they are better. Vaping is really bad for your teeth. Add a few energy drinks to your daily habit and you or your teen will get to know the dentist very well.