Each generation of teenagers defines cool trends for themselves. Sometimes, these trends come back to haunt us as adults in the form of embarrassing photos (Mom, why is only one pant leg rolled up on your jeans?), but they don’t usually impact our health for years to come. One of the biggest trends with teens today, however, poses serious long-term health risks. We’re talking about vaping. Vaping, the term teens used to describe smoking an e-cigarette, continues to attract teens at an alarming rate. Indeed, the latest numbers state that “more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students” currently uses some form of e-cigarette. With these numbers, the Surgeon General declared youth e-cigarette use an epidemic in the US. Not only does vaping have nicotine addiction implications for your teen, but their oral health can suffer greatly, too. The effects of vaping on teeth and your teen’s overall oral health are real and serious.
4 Ways Vaping Harms Your Teen’s Oral Health
Your teen’s oral health plays a crucial role in their overall health. Vaping leads to tooth decay, mouth sores, bad breath, and more. Below we cover the four main reasons e-cigarettes lead to these undesirable consequences for your teen’s dental health.
1. Weakens Tooth Enamel
The outer layer of the tooth, the enamel, is amazingly strong. As we’ve discussed in other blog posts, however, sugars and acids can dissolve tooth enamel. Sweet vaping liquids with names like Crème Cookie, Lemon Tart, Candy Crash, and Cinnablaze, are extremely popular with young vapers. These vape juices contain sweeteners, flavorings, and chemicals that attack tooth enamel with each puff. The sweeteners are extremely sticky and difficult to brush off of teeth. Also, the chemicals are acidic and dissolve tooth enamel with repeat or extended exposure. As a result, those who vape experience a 27% decrease in enamel hardness. Weakened tooth enamel makes teeth more susceptible to cavities.
2. Restricts Blood and Nutrient Flow to Gums
In order to keep healthy teeth, your teen needs healthy gums. After all, they serve as the structural glue for our teeth. Most e-cigarette juices contain nicotine. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict or get smaller. As a result, the blood vessels under the influence of nicotine cannot deliver the optimal flow of blood and nutrients your teens’ gums require. The constriction lasts for about 2 hours after inhaling nicotine; furthermore, nicotine’s byproducts remain in the body for up to 2 weeks. In other words, nicotine continues to negatively impact your teens oral health for days after their last puff.
3. Encourages the Growth of Harmful Oral Bacteria
Saliva plays an important role in your teen’s oral health. Healthy saliva levels help wash food particles and plaque away throughout the day. Likewise, it also helps maintain a healthy pH level in the mouth. In short, healthy saliva levels prevent cavity-causing bacteria from growing in your teen’s mouth. Vaping disrupts saliva production, however. In fact, vaping causes dry mouth due to the use propylene glycol (PG). PG is the clear, syrupy liquid used to mix together nicotine and flavorings in e-cig juices. When heated, it vaporizes to give that smoking sensation to users. PG molecules are hygroscopic. In other words, they bond easily with water molecules they come in contact with. As a result, each time your teen vapes, the inhaled PG molecules act like a sponge. They absorb all the water molecules out of your teen’s saliva, as well as out of their mouth, throat, and nose tissues, too. This drier environment encourages harmful oral bacteria to grow. In fact, researchers discovered that vapers have more bacterial in their mouths than others. These bacteria often cause bad breath. More alarming, these bacteria can take advantage of the weakened tooth enamel discussed above and cause tooth decay.
4. Stains Teeth
Your teen’s teeth, much like their skin, contains pores. These pores absorb the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, and when nicotine meets oxygen, it turns yellow. The result is yellow teeth. Moreover, your teen cannot easily brush away all of this staining. The staining can settle deep inside the enamel and even reach the next tooth layer, the dentin. Tooth bleaching may be needed to remove the staining, which in turn can lead to tooth sensitivity. Stained teeth may not sound as serious as increased bacteria levels and decay, but in the world of a teen, appearances matter. A stained smile can make a teen lose confidence in their appearance. It also may mean more expenses at the dentist to brighten their smile back up.
Ten Signs Your Teen May be Vaping
Studies indicate that many teens successfully hide their vaping habit from their parents. Unlike traditional cigarettes, vaping won’t leave your teen smelling like an ashtray. So how is a parent to know if their teen might be vaping?
1. Social Media Content.
If you search #vapetricks on Instagram, you’ll have over 4,745,100 posts to scroll through. Searching #vapingtricks will give you over 40,000 more if you’re still curious. Teen vaping culture is definitely a reality. If your teen follows vaping influencers like Austin Lawrence, consider starting a conversation. Even if they are not vaping yet, following and liking vaping culture posts suggests they may be thinking about trying it. Start a conversation to stop the behavior before it goes any further than an interest.
2. Increased Thirst.
As we mentioned above, vaping dries out your teen’s mouth, throat, and nose. Many vapers, as a result, feel thirsty constantly. If your teen is drinking more than usual, it may be time to investigate why.
A dry nose also can lead to nosebleeds.
4. Increased Irritability, Especially During Breaks from School
Nicotine addiction causes irritability when the addiction cannot be fed. For teens who sneak e-cigarettes when away from home, weekends and school breaks can cause bouts of nicotine withdraw. Of course, with teens, moodiness can be par for the course. Nicotine cravings, though, can add restlessness, increased appetite, anger, and frustration to the mix if teens can’t get that fix.
5. Night-Time Cough
If your teen isn’t suffering from a cold or allergies, a night-time cough may signal a vaping habit. The inhaled vapors can irritate the airway just like traditional cigarettes. A constant clearing of the throat or a cough when lying down signals airway irritation that may be due to vaping.
6. Blisters on Fingers and/or Mouth
Vaping requires teens to light up their cartridge filled with e-juices. Teens often get blisters on their fingers trying to manipulate the lighter and hot cartridges. Likewise, some cartridges have been known to explode and cause blistering on the mouth, too.
7. Strange USB or Electronic Parts in Pockets, Trash, Backpacks
E-cigarette juices come in cartridges of different sizes and shapes. Some are disguised to look like USB drives, while others look like pens. In addition, vaping requires the user to change out and replace parts. Thus, if you find odd electrical pieces and parts on your teens’ dresser or in pockets, it may be time to ask what they are.
Common Vape Sizes and Shapes. Examples of Small Vape Parts.
8. Unusual Fatigue
Nicotine addiction disrupts sleep activity. Teens who vape often wake numerous times, so even a full night’s sleep leaves a vaping teen feeling exhausted in the morning.
9. Bad Breath
Even with regular brushing, a vaping teen often suffers from bad breath. The dry mouth coupled with increased bacteria levels mean an unnatural pH balance in the mouth. Strong bad breath often results.
10. Friends (or Family) Who Vape
Teens who have a friend or family member who vapes is more likely to vape. Ask them how they feel about this behavior to determine how likely they might be to copy it.
Your Dentist Can Help You Talk to Your Teen About Vaping
Talking to teens about tough topics like vaping can intimidate even the most confident parents. If you suspect your teen might be vaping, consider talking to their pediatric dentist. Your dentist will appreciate the heads up to look for indicators and/or damage from vaping. They will also be able to talk to your teen about the risks to their oral health and take the eye rolls for you in the process! The risks are too great, not to. Not only can their oral health suffer, but teens who vape are also more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes in the future.
Dr. Laura Adelman and Dr. Rachel Rosen are pediatric dentists who are passionate about teens’ oral health.
They write these blogs, not as medical advice, but for informational purposes. The best source of oral health advice for your child is your pediatric dentist. Only they will be able to determine the best treatment and prevention options based upon your child’s dental history. Located off of Darrow Road just north of Hudson, Ohio, they are taking new patients under the age of 12. They invite new patients to request an appointment today. One of their friendly team members will be in touch to find the right day and time for your first visit.