The new research, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, looked at dental records of approximately 13,000 patients visiting Tufts clinics over a three-year period through 2022. Of patients who reported using e-cigarettes, 79.1% were classified as at high risk of developing tooth decay . This compared to 59.6% of those not using e-cigarettes registered in the same group at high risk of cavities.
The study is far from definitive, with an unusually small percentage of patients reporting using e-cigarettes. Of the full data set, only 136 patients reported vaping, less than one percent of the cohort.
Karina Irusa, lead author of the new paper, is aware of the limitations of her findings. Speaking to Australia’s ABC News, Irusa said her findings were based on the assumption that the dental records analyzed were accurate and that patients reported honest behavior.
“It’s important to understand that these are preliminary data,” Irusa said. “This isn’t 100% conclusive, but people should know what we’re seeing.”
While this study is the first to specifically look at associations between vaping and “risk” for cavities, it’s not the first to suggest that e-cigarette use may have harmful effects on oral health. Last year, another study of dental data found that those who used e-cigarettes were more likely to have untreated cavities than patients who don’t vape.
How e-cigarette fumes can damage a person’s teeth is still the source of much research. It is possible that these association studies are simply detecting a correlation with no direct cause. So maybe the type of people who use e-cigarettes are also the type of people who eat more sugar-filled foods?
However, there is a small but growing body of research suggesting that e-cigarette fumes can directly damage teeth. For example, in 2018, researchers found that e-cigarette aerosols significantly increased the adhesion of bacteria to tooth enamel. This indicated that vaping could increase the risk of cavities by causing tooth decay-causing bacteria to build up on our teeth. Another more recent study found that flavored vape liquids, in particular, promote the growth of tooth decay-causing oral bacteria.
Ultimately, Irusa is candid about how little is currently known about the effects of vaping on oral health. At the very least, she suggests that e-cigarette users should be a little stricter about maintaining oral health, as vaping is likely to be harmful to teeth.
“The magnitude of the effects on dental health, particularly on tooth decay, is still relatively unknown,” she adds. “Right now I’m just trying to raise awareness [among both dentists and patients].”
The new research is published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Source: Tufts University