Scientists find smoking e-cigarettes may lead to gum disease

NEW YORK, NY – A new study suggests e-cigarettes may increase your risk of developing gum disease. E-cigarettes impact the oral microbiome — a habitat of bacteria and other microbes in your mouth — making it more unhealthy than people who do not smoke.

“To our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study of oral health and e-cigarette use. We are now beginning to understand how e-cigarettes and the chemicals they contain are changing the oral microbiome and disrupting the balance of bacteria,” Deepak Saxena, who led the research with Xin Li; both professors of molecular pathobiology at NYU College of Dentistry explain in a news release.

Gum disease affects more than half of adults over the age of 30 living in the U.S. It was already well-known that cigarette smoking increases a person’s risk of gum disease. However, the risk of gum disease in the ‘healthier’ alternative of a cigarette is less known.

Vaping worsens gum disease over time

The research examined the oral health of 84 adults who either smoked cigarettes, vaped, or have never smoked. Two dental exams scheduled six months apart collected plaque samples to study bacteria in the mouth.

Researchers found that those who initially had gum disease worsened their condition if they continued to smoke cigarettes. While not as severe as cigarettes, people who vaped had worse gum disease in the second dental check-up.

Gum disease is associated with pockets from a person’s gum receding. These pockets are a breeding group for bacteria to flourish and create more severe gum disease. One finding showed people who vaped — but not cigarette smokers and never-smokers — showed worse signs of clinical attachment loss and pockets.

Smoking e-cigarettes contributed to the growth of unhealthy bacteria

After studying bacteria collected from plaque samples, researchers found people who vaped had a different oral microbiome than cigarette smokers and never smokers. The team observed high amounts of bacteria, such as Selenomonas, Leptotrichia, and Saccharibacteria in the microbiome of smokers and vapers compared to nonsmokers.

They also observed bacteria involved in gum disease, Fusobacterium and Bacteroidales, in a lot of e-cigarette users.

“Vaping appears to be driving unique patterns in bacteria and influencing the growth of some bacteria in a manner akin to cigarette smoking, but with its own profile and risks to oral health,” said Fangxi Xu, a junior research scientist in Saxena’s lab and the study’s co-first author.

Findings showed changes to the oral microbiome in vapes linked to changes in the immune response. The immune changes were similar to those that are often seen in a person with gum disease. Vaping led to changes in proteins called cytokines that can cause inflammation and infection when there is an imbalance in oral bacteria.

One cytokine called TNFα is a critical player in causing inflammation and was in high levels among vapers. Similar to people with gum disease, vapors had lower levels of IL-4. The findings suggest certain bacterial species in the oral microbiome of vapors could be working to suppress the immune response.

The study is published in the journal mBio.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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