Vaping: An Attractive Option or a Destructive Alternative for Oral Health?

Guest post by Jack Simon

Here it is my dear readers – the very first guest post on Dental Revelations Blog. Jack Simon is a skilled writer and I am happy that he has offered to write on my blog. Today’s subject is an important one.

Many people are turning to e-cigarettes as the conventional cigarettes are increasingly considered as anti-social. Plus there is this false belief that vaping is safer health wise than conventional cigarettes. Vaping is not safe and there are many health aspects you should consider if you opt for vaping. Jack Simon has comprehensively pointed out those health aspects in this guest post.

Please read it though before the whole vaping business blows up in your face. Literally.


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Are e-cigarettes harmful to your health? Image source: http://www.pixabay.com

The flare of e-cigarettes (ECs) in the recent years has put the health professionals’ in a situation to race against time and discover whether its introduction has been for better or for worse.

ECs, also known as ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) are the battery operated devices with a metal heating element, which vaporizes a solution comprising a range of chemicals.

These days, more and more individuals are taking it up in preference to or in addition to traditional cigarettes. This hot trend in the market has raised some serious questions for government and public health professionals, as the growth of the products has seriously outpaced the regulations.

People consider e-cigarettes to be a healthier option. A common line that they use to give themselves a false gratification is

“I just vape & don’t smoke and it is not injurious to health”

This fake sense of security in e-cigarettes that they pose no harmful impact, as they use water vapor is actually not true. In reality, the notion that these products are no threat is in fact not 100% verified. If you also have the same approach, then it would be a good time to take a closer look at them and consider the effect they may have on our oral health.

Background

Its introduction in the US led to its extensive use by both smokers and non-smokers. Statistics indicate that about 20.1% of adult smokers tried ECs in 2011 and the rate of its use by school children has doubled during 2011-2012 in the US.

Sales of ECs in 2012 were estimated to be $1.7 billion in the US. If not regulated properly, the economics of ECs are expected to have remarkable growth possibility for the tobacco industry and beat the sales of tobacco smoking cigarettes in the coming decade.

Researchers are conducting a range of experiments to look at them closely. One of such findings showed that e-cigarettes consumers are acquiring much higher levels of chemical toxins – this is in clear-cut contrast to the harm decreasing patter in the ads on offer by ECs companies.

These devices have initially escaped scrutiny for safety standards and rules, but the FDA has latterly begun efforts to form regulations that would control the marketing of these products. In view of their warm acceptance and usage, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a workshop in 2013 to find-out the future research concerns relating to the effects of ENDS on health, potential use in cessation of smoking, addictiveness and public well-being. Furthermore, rate of queries from patients to medical practitioners relating to the safety and effectiveness of ECs as smoking cessation devices are increasing with increased acceptance.

In recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it has been clarified that during the process of nicotine vaporization, a variety of chemicals and metal particles are produced by these devices. The chemicals identified in the aerosols of ECs are: propylene glycol, formaldehyde, glycerine, acetaldehyde, toluene, acrolein, nickel, cadmium, nitrosamines, silicon, aluminum, and lead.

While the levels of these identified compounds and metals in ENDS are quite lower than tobacco smoke, some of them have been found to be carcinogenic and genotoxic by many studies. In addition, smoking characteristics and potential for exploitation by consumers of ECs, periodontal and upper aerodigestive tract epithelial cells, nicotine yield and degree of exposure of oral, physical characteristics of vaporized nicotine and other chemical products are tremendously different if compared to conventional cigarettes.

Let’s Unveil Its Effects on Oral Health

Apart from the recognizable health implications, vaping pose severe damage to your oral health (teeth, gums and tongue). Problems like tooth decay, teeth loss, gingivitis, periodontal disease and oral cancer are the most common ill-effects caused by conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The nicotine absorbency is very high in ECs.

The Journal of the Indian Society of Periodontology published a report to disclose that nicotine significantly contributes to the development of gum problems (gingivitis and periodontitis), which can be the leading cause for bad breath and inflammation throughout the body.

The Journal of Cellular Physiology published the result of recent study, showing that a high rate of mouth cell die with the increased exposure to e-cigarette vapor.

Studies have also revealed that the menthol additive in ECs liquids have a destructive effect on the epithelial cells and the fibroblasts within the periodontal ligament. Its longer term use may also increase the risk of oral cancer; however this is still under investigation.

The Role of Nicotine in Destroying Your Oral Health

  • In Gum Recession
    Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor; therefore it has the tendency to contract the muscular wall of the blood vessels and cutting-down the amount of blood that flows through the veins. With restricted blood flow, the gums do not get sufficient oxygen and nutrients that is necessary for them to stay healthy. Moreover, it chokes mouth tissues, thus cause death of the gum tissues.

  • In Causing Bad Breath
    Nicotine constrains the body’s ability to produce saliva. Lack of saliva can leave your mouth prone to bacteria buildup, tooth decay and dry mouth. This also affects the mouth’s normal inhibitory function of cleaning and reduces the body’s innate capacity to heal and generate new cells.

  • In Intensifying Grinding
    Nicotine acts as a stimulant that fires-up the muscles, making you grind your teeth more intensely or might prompt you to start grinding even if you aren’t a grinder.

  • In Hiding Tell-Tale Signs of Gum Problem
    Nicotine can mask the initial signs of gum disease and makes it hard for a dentist to diagnose it.

Various researches have clarified that vaping impose many potential ill-effects to our oral health. This should be enough to the most rabid vapers to see the whole picture clearly that it is not safe.

The manufacturers of ECs claim that their product is a healthier therapeutic alternative to conventional smoking, but in the absence of any verified scientific study to back this contention, it would be ideal to avoid it.

Nicotine inhalation puts the person’s dental health at greater risks. Regardless of whether these devices pose less harmful effects than conventional smoking, health specialists concur that they are by no means safe.

Your likelihood of getting gum problem is higher as long as you are using nicotine, so visit your dentist in a frequency of three months to prevent tooth loss, bone loss, gum recession and many oral issues.


Author Biography

Jack Simon is a content strategist at Irresistible Smiles. He has flair of writing engaging articles about oral health care. His keen interest in presenting the dental care issues in a simple and straightforward manner is appealing to the readers.

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Money-Saving Advice on Dental Visits

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Are you seeing your dentist for a check-up too often?

Here we go again. I am annoyed about something that is waiting to burst out. I have written about integrity of the dentists in one of my previous posts and today I am going to touch the same subject.

This post is about dentist check-up frequency patients should have.

Many dental practices very commonly advise people on their websites and in the surgeries to see dentist every three to six months and they justify this by prevention of bigger dental problems.

A revelation:

Recommending the same check-up interval to all the patients is not up to the standards of modern dentistry. It is merely (once again) about maximizing the profit of the practice.

Check-up intervals should be decided after carefully evaluating the current status of the oral health, general health and oral hygiene routines. I will list the guidelines that are practiced in one of the leading countries.

Managing Decay

24 to 36 Months Interval in Check-Ups

This concerns the patients who have

  • no treatment requiring decay
  • no early decay that needs to be stopped or reversed
  • not had any decay for many years

It is important to check the patient’s eating habits to make sure that they are not harmful to the teeth and encourage patient to change them if needed.

6 to 12 Months Interval in Check-Ups

This concerns the patients who have

  • one or more early decay or advanced decay

It is important to make a plan together with a patient to stop the decaying. This might include visits to the hygienist.

Exceptions

Certain groups of people might need to see dentist more often than advised above. These are:

  • children and youngsters
  • people with illnesses and medications that reduce saliva flow
  • users of intoxicants
  • immigrants of certain countries
  • people with dental phobia
  • people with big life events (pregnancy, divorce, military service, retirement)
  • people of low education
  • smokers
  • people with illnesses or injuries that cause disability that prevent good oral hygiene
  • people with harmful eating habits and/or poor oral hygiene
  • people who use fluoride toothpaste less than twice a day
  • mouth breathers
  • people who are undergoing orthodontic treatment
  • people with dentures
  • people with erosion on teeth
  • patients who have had teeth extracted/root canal treated due to decay in the past 3 years

Managing Gum Disease

3 to 12 Months Intervals in Maintenance Visits

After a comprehensive therapy for the gum disease the patient needs to see periodontist/hygienist regularly for the maintenance visits. The interval of the maintenance visits is based on many risk factors like

  • severity of the bone loss
  • smoking status
  • overall health (diabetes)
  • genetics
  • age related (medications, illnesses)
  • gender (male)
  • low socioeconomic status
  • poor oral hygiene
  • condition of the teeth (restorations – especially subgingival crown margins, removable dentures)
  • furcations
  • anatomic abnormalities
  • residual pockets

The more advanced gums disease the shorter the maintenance interval. The more risk factors the shorter maintenance interval.

Conclusion

To recommend all the patients the same 3-monthly check ups is simply madness and it stinks of foul play.

Dear patients,

please be advised that you most definitely do not need to see a dentist every three months unless you fall into one of those risk factor categories above. But even in these cases a top-notch oral hygiene habits can make wonders and extend the check-up interval from three months to six.

Also if you do want to see a dentist every three months there is no harm done. Apart from you needing to pay unnecessarily for a treatment you don’t need.

Yours sincerely,

Dental Revelations Blog

Times change. So does the dentistry. Sticking to the old ways – “it has always been done like this” – is simply not what modern dental practice should do.

More on the subject click the links below.

NHS

Daily Mail

NICE – National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Do You Recommend Toothpick?

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Toothpick or no toothpick, that is the question!

I will once again return to the times when I was a student in dental school and knew only little of the dentistry.

We were learning about cariology and were advised to bring in dental radiographs (x-rays) if we had any. I had had a panoramic radiograph taken recently and the teacher – a specialist in cariology – took a look at it. He said to me:

“You should use a toothpick”

I was very surprised and said to him that there is no way I can fit the toothpick in between the teeth. He showed me from my x-ray that there is enough space between the teeth for the toothpick. But I was not convinced (thought that he was wrong) and carried on using a floss for many years to come.

The reason why this occasion came to my mind was that I was reading through health and dental blogs to get ideas for my next topic and I ran into several blogs that wrongly advice people against using a toothpick. I got this certain annoyed feeling inside of me and I knew I had to write about it.

Toothpick Widens the Gaps Between the Teeth and So It Is Supposed To

I have worked with many periodontists and learned that floss is not – by far – the right tool when we try to tackle the gum disease. It does no massaging for the gums which is needed when we try to make the gums firmer around the teeth (plus it won’t remove all the bacteria). When the gum gets firmer it shrinks and leaves less space for the bacteria to hide and cause the disease.

When I moved abroad I very quickly understood that a toothpick was not considered to be a good tool for cleaning between the teeth. I received wondering commentary from my colleagues when they realised I am recommending it. It was considered to be old-fashioned, ineffective and even harmful to the gum. I had to explain the reasons for recommending it again and again:

“The toothpick – the triangle-shaped wooden one –  works well initially when the patient has inflamed and swollen gums. It is cost-effective, easy to use and effective in massaging the loose gum. Once the gums have healed and firmed up we can determine better which sizes of interdental brushes are the best ones to use.”

The patients often fear that whatever they are using to clean between the teeth will widen the gaps. I tell them that it might actually happen but in that case it is only a good sign. I explain to them – with their x-rays – that the bone levels will determine how much the gaps between the teeth will widen.

If the bone around the tooth has receded as a result of the bacteria presence and inflammation and there is swollen and loose gum on top of it, it is an unhealthy situation and will result in more bone loss eventually. The gum needs to be firm on top of the bone so that it can better resist the bacteria.

And the only way to get firm gum is by massaging it. This can be done with the triangle-shaped wooden toothpick by pushing it gently but firmly between the teeth as far as it goes and repeat it couple of times. If there is bleeding at first it is also a good sign – the toothpick is doing its job. The bleeding will stop if the toothpick is used for a week in every between the teeth every night.

Suspicion

People often leave the practice unconvinced of the advice they were given. But the ones that do as they were told despite being sceptical are gobsmacked by the way the bleeding (and hurting) stopped.

I recall having a phone conversation with a patient who had an advanced gum disease and who had recently seen me for the first visit of the course of treatments. I had advised him to use purple interdental brush (1,1mm) but he wasn’t convinced about it and this was the reason for to phone call. He thought the brush was too big as it hurt. I told him that the only thing he can do is to try to prove me wrong. To follow my advice and see if I’m wrong.

He carried on using the interdental brush and about week later I received another phone call from the patient. He wanted to share his amazement and joy about his gums that had stopped bleeding. He was thankful for the correct advise and said that he had suffered from bleeding gums for all his life and only now – at his fifties – he managed to stop the gums bleeding.

The pain makes people think that something they use is not right for them. That’s why it is important to advise patients that when they have a gum disease (any stage from gingivitis to severe periodontitis) it will be painful at first when they begin using the interdental brush or toothpick – there’s no way around it. I always tell patients that for about week they need to suffer from tender and sometimes very painful gums. But if they persevere with the use of interdental brush/toothpick as advised they will notice it won’t hurt after a while.

 Conclusion

I have said this before and I am saying it again – do not believe everything you read from the internet. I have run into several sites that offer wrong advise on oral health. Even dental professional offer wrong advise. Here’s one example about advise against the use of toothpick

The sharp surface area might destroy the polish of the tooth, damage the gums or perhaps create the voids in between the teeth to broaden.

A correct technique of any product recommended needs to be established at the dental practice before patient leaves the practice. Toothpick can cause harm to the gum if used incorrectly but so can floss, interdental brush and toothbrushes. I have pointed out two times in this post that the toothpick needs to be the triangle-shaped one if it is used in between the teeth. Never use cocktail sticks!

Also a toothpick should be used only temporarily as it won’t remove all the bacteria from between the teeth for the same reasons as the floss doesn’t. Neither one of them cannot get into the grooves of the teeth (area where the roots start to separate) and the grooves of the fillings.

I will emphasise that a toothpick is perfect in the beginning of the periodontal treatment when the swelling of the gum needs to be reduced.

Finally back to my teacher who advised me to use toothpicks. He was right. Of course he was – he had decades of experience. I was just a cocky rookie in dentistry and thought I knew better.

It wasn’t until I had periodontists as colleagues when I realised that I need to use something else than a floss. My bone level around the teeth was naturally that low that I could fit in a toothpick and later I moved on to the interdental brushes (size 0,7mm). I have used them for over a decade now and haven’t used floss since – and no, I have not developed any decay in the contact point of the tooth.

Do You Recognise the Gum Disease?

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Be careful next time you open your mouth in the bus. I might be sitting next to you.

Many people have gum disease without knowing it and it often comes as surprise when they are told about it at the dentist. Even bigger surprise would be if they knew how many dentists do not recognise the gum disease or know what a comprehensive treatment is for it.

I have seen countless amounts of patients in my career whose gum disease has gone undetected. It’s astounding! I’ve had patients who have visited the hygienist and the dentist every six months but still there is massive amounts of subgingival calculus around every teeth. And it is deep and tough to remove.

Just guess the surprise of the patient when instead of having a 15 minute check-up and 30 minute hygienist visit like normally, she will now need three 60 minute visits to remove the calculus thoroughly and a 4th visit in three months time. To be honest, this upsets me often. It’s not that difficult to diagnose the gum disease. It’s not rocket science for crying out loud!

I have spent way too many hours explaining why my colleagues have not noticed the gum disease. And my efforts for not sounding too annoyed at my fellow professionals sometimes fail miserably. Luckily, most of the patients take it relatively easy and do not demand compensation from the previous dentist. Instead they are normally very grateful that somebody caught the condition.

There will be information for professionals next but the patients benefit of reading it too. If you are a patient you can move on to the end of this post if you want to skip the professional part.

So Why Don’t You Recognise the Gum Disease?

There are five probable reasons (add more to the comment box if you wish).

Lack of time. In 15 minute check-up the dentist should go through the medical history of the patient, check the teeth (loose fillings, decay, fractures etc.), the soft tissues (inside the cheeks, tongue, lips, roof and floor of the mouth and the throat) and the gums. Plus there might be need for the x-rays. Fifteen minutes simply is not enough for this considering that the disinfection business before the next patient should be done as well. Even 30 minute appointment might not be enough.

The X-factor. By X I mean money and it is related to the time issue. Dental practices have 15 minute check-ups because instead of having two patients in an hour that pay X amount for the visit they can have four. Four times X is better than two times X. At least for the practice.

Lack of basic skills. We have an instrument which finds any gum disease from any patients mouth when used correctly. Or when used. It is not by default that this instrument, perio probe finds it’s way to the check-up tray. I have seen dentist doing the check-up by using the sharp explorer only. And even if the perio probe is used, it is used incorrectly and the gum disease goes undetected. Even a gum specialist (periodontist) has failed at this and I will tell you more about it later in this post.

Lack of experience. When you are an experienced dental professional (either a dentist with a great interest in the gum disease or a hygienist) you can recognise gum disease from a distance. I will give you an example.

You sit in a bus on your way home and somebody sits next to you. He yawns and 3 seconds later your nose detects an odour you rather not smell on your free time. Periodontitis (aka gum disease)! Thank goodness the bus has a good ventilation and the odour is soon gone and you hope he keeps his mouth closed for the rest of the journey. Then the guy’s phone rings and it’s his mother…

I can often recognise the gum disease by just looking at the patients mouth. The gums have a certain look on the sites of the pockets. Even if there is only one deep pocket in a healthy mouth, you can spot it out by the looks of the gum. It is difficult to explain how they look so I won’t even try. Anyone experienced know what I mean. The point is that the more you examine the gums and find the sites where the deep pockets, subgingival calculus and gingivitis (bleeding of the gums) are, the more you learn to tell what looks normal and what doesn’t.

But do not worry if you are a newbie. Just learn to use the perio probe correctly and you will be fine!

Forgetting how smoking hides the gum disease. Heavy smoking can make the gum disease invisible to the eye and often the dentists and hygienists are misled by the looks of the heavy smoker’s gums especially if the oral hygiene is good at that very moment. Heavy smoker’s gums look healthy and pale. There’s no sign of the red and swollen gums. No sign of the bleeding after probing. And yet the disease is there.

Even if the gum disease is not visible to the eye with the smoker, it is still there for the perio probe to find but with the smokers you really need to master the technique. Often the smokers gum line is very tight and it is difficult to find access to the pocket (once you do, don’t let it out until you have probed the whole side of the tooth).

Use of the Periodontal Probe

When I was at dental school learning the arts of the dentistry, one of our teachers (a periodontist) said one day annoyingly “They didn’t even know how to use a perio probe!” At that moment we were practicing scaling in the school’s clinic but this outburst was not addressed to us students (thank god as the teacher was scary as hell) but to a group of dental hygienists who had come to revise perio skills at the dental school. This one sentence has stayed in my memory for some reason and only until now I understand what she meant and why she was so annoyed.

Not only the hygienists fail in the technique of the perio probe but also the dentists and even the periodontists. I will tell you about one periodontist who saw one of my patient.

I had referred the patient to the specialist with all the relevant documentation (x-rays, perio chart etc). When I saw the patient 6 months later a course of treatment was finished with the periodontist. I examined the patient’s gums and found a 10 mm pocket on one of the molars. The depth was the same as before referring. The patient told me she was going to have a control visit soon with the periodontist so I wrote letter about the persistent pocket.

Three months later I saw the patient again and nothing was done to it. A periodontist had said to the patient that there is no pocket.

No pocket! I’m going to show you the pocket!

I took my DSLR and put a perio probe into the pocket and fired away. The patient got the photo on cd and gave it to the periodontist on the next visit. I’m afraid my story ends there. I never saw this patient again as she got retired and was not able to see me as we were too expensive.

Ten millimetres deep pocket and it went unnoticed by the specialist even when the location was pointed out. What chances do the rest of us less-educated ones have if the one wearing the black belt in our industry is not able to do it?

Note to all dental professionals who examine patients gums: Please check your perio probe technique. There are plenty of information about the use of the perio probe on the internet plus hands on courses at the dental schools. And those who are not using a perio probe, shame on and start now!

What Is the Gum Disease?

I won’t go much into details about the gum disease but I will tell you the warning signs when you should visit your dentist:

  • your gums bleed when brushing/flossing/eating or they bleed spontaneously
  • your gums hurt when brushing/flossing/eating
  • your teeth have become longer over the years or they have tilted/rotated/moved
  • your teeth feel loose
  • you have wider gaps between the teeth than before
  • somebody has told you often that your breath smells. Gum disease doesn’t always produce bad breath especially in the early stages. It is the advanced periodontitis when the smell can be obvious to everyone else except to the bearer. But how many of you tell the other person that their breath stinks? Not many, unless it is your spouse in concern

The gum disease is always caused by the bacteria in your mouth. When the bacteria is removed effectively and regularly the chances for you getting a gum disease are minimal. But even if you are looking after the teeth well (brushing thoroughly twice a day and cleaning between the teeth once a day with a product that was recommended by the hygienist) go to see your dentist if:

  • you are a heavy smoker (here‘s why)
  • you have a diabetes
  • you are pregnant

If the gum disease is left untreated it will result in loss of tooth. It is also associated with certain illnesses so your general health is to be concerned as well.

If you want to find out more please visit American Academy of Periodontology’s site which provides lots of useful information for the patients.

How Is It Treated and Can I Do It Myself?

The gum disease is treated by simply removing the bacteria (both soft bacteria, plaque and hardened bacteria, calculus) and teaching the patient the correct techniques for removing the soft bacteria regularly by themselves.

Anyone can start better oral hygiene routine at home without seeing a dentist. Getting rid of the daily build up of bacteria effectively may cure the gum disease. This means brushing twice a day with electric toothbrush and cleaning between the teeth preferably with something else than a floss (floss is better than nothing of course). You could try Gum Soft Picks at first. Aim to the size that feels slightly tight between the teeth.

But remember, you are not able to remove the hardened plaque (calculus). Also if the calculus has build up below the gum, you will need to see dentist (for an assessment) and hygienist (for scaling) to stop the gum disease progressing.

A revelation:

There is no easy way out of the gum disease. It will most probably hurt like hell and the gum will bleed (in some cases heavily) in the beginning when you brush and clean between the teeth. If you at this point stop e.g. using an interdental brush that was recommended to you or you use it every second night because you think you are harming the gums, the gums will keep on bleeding and hurting. You will never get out of the vicious cycle. So persevere, be brave and have a faith on us professionals.

Sometimes if the gum disease has advanced to severe stage, you might need surgery on your gums (performed by the periodontist).