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.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7