Healthy Smiles Begin with Good Oral Health and No E-Cigarettes

February 23, 2015

If you ask any dentist or dental hygienist, they will agree that oral health can be an effective indicator of your overall health regardless of age or socioeconomic status.

With one quick glance, dentists can tell if you’ve been flossing regularly and controlling your sweet tooth. What you may not realize is they can also detect potential chronic diseases and make an educated prediction about your health behaviors, particularly if you are a tobacco user.

In support of National Children’s Dental Health Month coordinated by the American Dental Association, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is encouraging parents and caregivers to pay close attention to symptoms such as bleeding, tender gums, oral pain, and mouth infections in their children to proactively identify health conditions prompted by tobacco or e-cigarette use.

“We know nicotine and tobacco products contribute to oral cancer, teeth staining, irritation of salivary glands, periodontal attachment loss and other oral problems,” said Carol Smith, RDH, MSHA, director of Oral Health, Office of Community Health at DPH. “Oral health professionals don’t want young teens to initiate tobacco use or tobacco related products. We are all concerned that teens are being misled to use cigarettes and electronic cigarette or e-cigarettes which are harmful to their teeth and increase health risks.”  

E-cigarettes, also known as smokeless cigarettes or e-cigs, often look like cigarettes, cigars or pipes. An e-cigarette contains a small, battery-powered heater that changes liquid nicotine into a mist, or vapor, that the user inhales.

Smith is concerned that as teens engage with social media and their peers, they are often misled about the detrimental health effects of e-cigarettes. Contrary to common beliefs, these products contain chemicals that are deadly and destroy healthy teeth.

E-cigarette users are most at risk for chemical poisoning which often involves exposure to the liquid containing nicotine used in the devices. Poisoning can occur by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin or eyes. In recent years, the Georgia Poison Control Center reported a sharp increase in the number of young children drinking liquid nicotine.

Children are drawn to the bright colored packaging and liquid nicotine flavors like cherry, chocolate, and bubble gum. Consuming even tiny amounts of liquid nicotine can cause vomiting, seizures, or death. The most common adverse health effects mentioned in e-cigarette calls to the Georgia Poison Control Center were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.

In addition to causing bad breath and yellow teeth, tobacco also inhibits salivary glands from functioning properly, which can cause dry mouth and tooth decay. Birth outcomes are also impacted by tobacco use. Women who smoke during pregnancy have higher rates of delivering a baby with a cleft palate than pregnant women who do not smoke during pregnancy.

“These are serious health problems to encounter early in life and teens are susceptible to the same adult issues when they use cigarettes and e-cigarettes,” said Smith. “We hope that we can educate Georgia youth and their parents that it’s never a good idea to use tobacco products. We are fighting pop culture messaging and advertisers who falsely promote these products as youthful, popular and harmless.”

Oral health is the lifeline to optimal overall health from childhood to adulthood. It’s never too late to quit e-cigarette or tobacco use, especially for teens and preteens. Support, resources and counseling services are available through the Georgia Tobacco Quitline at 1-877-270-STOP. If your child accidentally drinks any amounts of liquid nicotine from e-cigarettes, call 911 or the Georgia Poison Center at 800-22-1222.

Visit the FDA online to learn more about electronic cigarettes. 

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