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Controversial Study Suggests Vaping May Cause Gum Disease

According to a new study on the effects of vaping on the oral microbiome, using e-cigarettes, even without nicotine-containing e-liquid, causes drastic changes that may lead to gum disease.

Titled Adverse Effects of Electronic Cigarettes on the Disease-Naive Oral Microbiome, the study was conducted by a team of researchers at the Ohio State University and published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal. Researchers collected plaque samples from under the gums of 123 people who showed no current signs of oral disease and conducted DNA deep sequencing of the bacteria genomes to identify the types of microbes and their function.

The 123 participants in this study were split into several different categories: 25 nonsmokers, 20 current vapers, 25 current smokers, 25 ex-smokers who currently vape, and 28 dual-users (both smoke and vape). That’s a diverse pool, but as Bernard Mayer, an Austrian pharmacology professor at the University of Graz, noted in a Facebook post, it is missing a key group: ex-smokers who DON’T currently vape. More on that later…

After analyzing the samples, researchers led by Purnima Kumar, professor of periodontology at The Ohio State University, concluded that the mouths of electronic cigarette users were teeming with micro-organisms capable of causing issues ranging from gum disease to cancer. They claimed that the oral bacteria composition of vapers resembled that of people suffering from periodontitis, a gum infection that can cause tooth loss and, if left untreated, heart and lung disease.

“Vaping is such a big assault on the oral environment, and the change happens dramatically and over a short period of time,” Prof. Kumar said. “If you stop smoking and start vaping instead, you don’t move back toward a healthy bacterial profile but shift up to the vaping profile. Knowing the vaping profile is pathogen-rich, you’re not doing yourself any favors by using vaping to quit smoking.”

That is a very serious statement to make, especially considering that the authors themselves acknowledge that no active lung disease was detected in vapers’ samples, only an oral bacteria profile that they claim MIGHT lead to lung disease at some point. Not to mention that smoking is already an established and well-documented cause for gum disease, cancer of the mouth and other serious conditions. How can you say that someone isn’t doing themselves any favors by switching from smoking to vaping, even from the perspective of oral health alone?

Prof. Purnima Kumar and her team said that one of the most concerning characteristic they noticed in vapers’ samples was the levels of stress in the microbial community, with bacteria cloaked in a mucus-like slime layer looking like foreign invaders and triggering a destructive inflammatory response from the immune system.

Apparently, the change in the microbial landscape, which signaled the immune system was on standby to activate and produce inflammation, increased the risk of gum disease. Again, we are not talking active lung disease here, but risk of lung disease at some point in the future.

Knowing full well that smoking is a cause of lung disease and that it leads to numerous other health issues, the authors still tried to make vaping seem even more dangerous, by claiming that in dual-users, the microbiome seen in vapers was the dominant one.

“And if you smoked and vaped at the same time, which of these two effects overwhelms your system? It was vape,” Kumar ominously said.

But what does that mean exactly? So the profile of oral bacteria changed? So what? Is that a good thing or bad? We don’t know, not even the authors do, and no one can say if it does in fact increase the risk of gum disease. But we do know that smoking definitely does…

And remember that test subject category that I said the study was missing? Well, without a control group of ex-smokers who don’t currently vape it’s impossible to distinguish between the effects of vaping and those of quitting smoking or previous smoking on the oral microbiome. But at this point, this is not that important of an observation. At the end of the day, the study only makes assumptions, since no active gum disease was actually detected. It warns of a negative effect of vaping that does not currently exist…

Earlier this week, German tobacco control expert Ute Mons raised the alarm about the poor quality of vaping-related research, and I personally believe that this study and the way it was reported by the media only strengthens Mons’ arguments. It’s a novelty study with little to no scientific benefit.

Top Photo: Tumisu/Pixabay

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