E-cigarettes: What Do Dentists Think of Them?

Electronic cigarettes, aka e-cigarettes have been around for quite a while. Although they have come into popularity over the last couple of years, these latest e-cigarettes are actually part of a second wave of the products. The original version was created in 1963, and the most recent incarnation was originated in 2003. Although it’s believed that they do not pose the carcinogenic risk of regular tobacco burning cigarettes, it’s still too early to assess the long-term impact of utilizing these smoke-free cigarette substitutes.


History of the E-cigarette

The original version of the e-cigarette was actually patented in the year 1963 by Herbert A. Gilbert. This early design looked like a cigarette with its emission of vapours, but only contained sweetened water. In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik invented a nicotine based cigarette that jump started the current trend.

Health Concerns of E-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes do not pose the cancer risk inherent in tobacco cigarettes, and they can’t burn your gums and lips. They are battery powered devices that vaporize a mixture of water, propylene glycol, nicotine and various flavourings. Although nicotine is quite habit forming, it has not been shown to have any serious, long-term effects. Propylene glycol has been approved for public use and is known for creating fog and smoke effects. However, there have been no definitive studies regarding the direct inhalation of propylene glycol, and some health professionals caution against inhaling any chemicals into the lungs, citing the organ’s inability to protect itself.

One thing we do know is that nicotine can cause dry mouth, and that can increase the risk of oral infection, dental caries and periodontal disease, as well as interfere with the body’s ability to heal after oral surgery, such as a tooth extraction.

E-cigarettes as an Aid in Smoking Cessation

According to a new study, e-cigarettes have not been shown to help people to quit smoking. Although they seem to be useful as a less toxic substitute for traditional tobacco cigarettes, people who use them do not cut down on their smoking and are no more likely to quit than old-fashioned smokers. To be fair, the study was not based on a huge sampling, and many of the people enrolled in the study were not trying to quit in the first place. It would seem that many smokers do enjoy their cigarettes, and are merely looking for a less toxic way to indulge their favourite habit.

It makes sense that other forms of nicotine delivery such as the patch or chewing gum might be more effective as smoking cessation tools, since they satisfy the needs of the nicotine addiction without the actual physical experience of smoking. Removing this part of the habit probably breaks the psychological pattern more effectively than re-creating the smoking experience.

In short, although e-cigarettes do seem to be “the lesser of two evils,” when compared with tobacco cigarettes, there is no comprehensive evidence to guarantee their overall safety. Moreover, there have been recent concerns regarding the toxicity of the nicotine liquid used to refill certain reusable models, and the risk of small children or babies accidentally ingesting quantities of this sometimes sweet smelling liquid.

Others have expressed concerns at the potential for e-cigarettes to function as a gateway to lure teenagers into the nicotine habit. Once in, they may convert to traditional smokers.

For now, it does not appear that there is any widespread approval among dentists on the subject of e-cigarettes. As medical professionals, we would not recommend the regular inhalation of any foreign chemical substance into the body, regardless of its delivery system. However, recognizing the perils of cigarette smoking, and the inherent risks of cancer to the mouth, throat and lungs, e-cigarettes may indeed be a safer alternative for those smokers who have no intention of ever giving up their nicotine habits. For them, this may be the best we can hope for at the moment.