Oral Health Resources | 16 December, 2022

Study Finds Vapes Linked to Higher Risk of Tooth Decay

Researchers reviewed thousands of patient records from a university dental clinic and found people who reported vaping were at higher risk of tooth decay and cavities than people who said they didn't vape.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Karina Irusa from Tufts University in the US, who led the study, says it's not possible to say that vaping definitely causes tooth cavities, but there's a likely association between the two.

"We stumbled upon this [potential link] by accident, and then the more we learned about it, the more we thought, 'OK, this could be a bad thing.'"

E-cigarette or vape liquid, which is heated and inhaled, is mostly a thick liquid base, such as glycerol and propylene glycol, mixed with a whole bunch of artificial flavourings and other chemicals. 

Vaping is becoming more and more popular and people aged 18-24 are more likely to vape than any other age group, with 5 per cent reporting they currently use a device, according to the National Health Survey 2021.

But vaping can be harmful to our health, particularly for non-smokers and young people, according to an Australian report published in April. We know users are at higher risk of developing, for instance, seizures and lung damage. 

Today's research is not the first to suggest a link between tooth decay and vaping.

A 2017-18 survey of 4,600 people in the US found those who currently used e-cigarettes were more likely to have untreated cavities than their non-smoking counterparts.

The country's first comprehensive dental health report card has found some pretty gross stats.

It's something one of Dr Irusa's colleagues noticed in his Chicago dental practice a few years ago.

He saw three patients, ranging in age from 21 to 52 years, each of whom had multiple cavities in unusual places.

For instance, one woman had decayed patches along the smooth biting edge of her top front teeth.

What the trio had in common was regular e-cigarette use — eight to 12 times a day — using vaping liquids containing THC, the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

To see if they could find a link between vaping and tooth decay risk in a wider patient cohort, Dr Irusa and her colleagues analysed patient records for around 13,000 people over 16 who visited a Tufts teaching dental clinic from the start of 2019 to the end of 2021.

Of those, 91 people (or less than 1 per cent) said they used e-cigarettes or vapes.

And they were more likely to be in the "high-risk" group for tooth decay (79 per cent) compared to non-vapers (60 per cent).

The Melbourne Dental School's Matt Hopcraft, who was not involved in the study, said while 91 people who reported vaping wasn't a terribly large group — more on why that might be later — the results hint at potential issues down the track for younger vapers.

By their teenage years, around 40 per cent of Australian children already have decay in their adult teeth, Dr Hopcroft said.

"If kids are turning into young adults who are vaping on a regular basis, that's increasing their risk [for cavities] further — and that's a real concern."