A new study has revealed that vaping may cause gum disease by altering the unique population of bacteria in the mouth.
Researchers studied dental exams to compare the oral health of cigarette smokers, vapers, and people who had never smoked.
Experts found that e-cigarette smokers attract a “microbial pool” rich in bacteria that has already been linked to gum disease, as well as more gum ligaments and tissues detached from the tooth surface even from cigarette smokers.
Since e-cigarettes have risen in popularity in the past decade, studies have revealed their potentially harmful effects on our health.
One expert stressed that these health risks are not comparable to those of smoking cigarettes.
The research, which consists of two new studies, emphasizes the unique population of bacteria and immune responses among people who use e-cigarettes.
“To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study of oral health and e-cigarette use,” said Deepak Saxena, professor of molecular biology at New York University’s School of Dentistry. “We are now beginning to understand how e-cigarettes and the chemicals they contain alter the oral microbiome and disrupt the balance of bacteria.” .
Studies on smokers
Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for gum disease, but little is known about the effect of e-cigarettes on oral health, especially the long-term consequences of vaping.
In the first study, published in mBio, researchers studied the oral health of 84 adults from three groups – cigarette smokers, e-cigarette users and people who had never smoked.
Gum disease was assessed by two dental examinations every six months, during which plaque samples were taken to analyze the bacteria present.
All participants had some gum disease at the start of the study, although cigarette smokers had the most severe gum disease, followed by e-cigarette users.
After six months, the researchers noted that some participants in each group, including many e-cigarette users, had worsening gum disease.
“Our data suggest that e-cigarette use enhances the unique periodontal microbiome, which is present as a stable heterogeneous state between traditional smokers and non-smokers and presents unique challenges to oral health,” the researchers said.
In the second study of the same participants published in Frontiers in Oral Health, the team found that the loss of clinical association was only significantly worse in e-cigarette smokers — not non-smokers and cigarette smokers — after six months.
The researchers then analyzed the bacteria present in the plaque samples and determined that e-cigarette users had a different oral microbiome than smokers and non-smokers.
This builds on previous findings the team previously published in iScience and Molecular Oral Microbiology.
Oral health and immunity
While all groups shared nearly a fifth of bacteria, the bacterial makeup of e-cigarette users had surprisingly more in common with cigarette smokers than non-smokers.
When the plaque samples were collected and analyzed in a six-month follow-up, the researchers found a greater diversity of bacteria for all groups studied, yet each group maintained its own microbiome.
The researchers found that the distinct microbiome in e-cigarette users was associated with clinical measurements of periodontal disease and changes in the host’s immune environment.
In particular, vaping has been associated with different levels of cytokines – proteins that help regulate the immune system.
Some cytokines are linked to an imbalance in oral bacteria and can exacerbate gum disease by making people vulnerable to inflammation and infection.
The researchers concluded that the distinct oral microbiome of e-cigarette users elicits altered immune responses, which along with clinical indicators of periodontal disease illustrate how e-cigarettes present their own challenge to oral health.