Dental Research Agency Wants Closer Look at Oral Effects of E-Cigarettes

Dental researchers want to know the oral effects of the increasingly popular battery-powered devices that deliver cigarettes electronically and in an array of flavors, vapors and venues. These devices are available from outlets ranging from convenience stores to "vape shops" and on the Internet.

As public health officials cast regulatory eyes on the relatively new and expanding e-cigarette market, an "evolving frontier" as the World Health Organization describes it, there’s little research available on the health risks to users and non-users and almost nothing on the oral effects of the contents and emissions of these nicotine delivery systems.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices with a metal heating element inside that vaporizes a solution containing a mixture of chemicals, including nicotine, natural flavors and other additives.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one of the National Institutes of Health, proposes filling the research gap to better inform regulators, health care professionals and consumers about the effects of e-cigarette aerosol mixtures on the mouth, the gums and tissue that constitute the periodontal epithelia.

"With the growing social acceptance of ECs as an alternative smoking product, an urgent need exists to determine their true biological effects on oral tissues," said an NIDCR announcement proposing research initiatives and inviting comment on the proposed themes, one of them "Effects of E-cigarette Aerosol Mixtures on Oral and Periodontal Epithelia."

"Currently, the effects of long term exposure to ECs are completely unknown and present a potential oral cancer and periodontal disease risk for users, due to their higher exposure to these chemical mixtures," the dental research agency said. "This initiative will encourage studies to assess the effects of EC-associated aerosol mixtures on oral and periodontal epithelial cells. It will support the comprehensive identification of chemicals produced by ECs and the analysis of effects on oral and periodontal epithelial cells."

The NIDCR, which funds the lion’s share of dental research in the United States, begins the initiative development process annually by identifying broad research topic areas or themes then developing a specific initiative proposal for each theme, taking into consideration the feedback received.

While public health agencies grapple with a regulatory response to the fast-growing market for electronic nicotine delivery systems, relatively little research has been conducted on the human health effects of e-cigarettes.

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