A series of headline-grabbing incidents have seen vaping in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The five-year-old boy hospitalised with severe breathing difficulties after having a chemical-laced vape in the school playground.
The 71-year-old man dying from what the emergency department doctor directly attributed to his 10 year vaping habit.
Yet one surprising line of defence is arming themselves to fight the rise of the e-cigarette: dentists.
Dr Sue-Ching Yeoh said the oral health professionals’ role was important to highlight the long-term consequences of this dangerous habit.
As an oral medicine specialist and the Australian Dental Association’s spokesperson on vaping, Dr Yeoh said, “vaping is without doubt highly dangerous”.
“Dentists in many cases will be the first line of defence in this spotting harms done by vaping,” she said.
“They have a significant role to play in slowing down or halting the vaping trend by asking about smoking and vaping habits, offering patients advice on health risks related to vaping and assisting in smoking and vaping cessation.”
Dentists could refer patients to an oral medical specialist for further treatment and investigation if necessary.
Get the facts
The Poisons Information Centres have recorded over 300 cases of nicotine poisoning and hospitalisations due to vaping.
Dentists in many cases will be the first line of defence in this spotting harms done by vaping, and they have a significant role to play in slowing down or halting the vaping trend.
– Dr Sue-Ching Yeoh
Some schools have resorted to installing vape detectors in bathrooms to try to control how they’re used.
The latest Australian National Drug Household Survey showed vaping is on the rise, doubling in popularity among 14 to 17-year-olds, and use quadrupling in 25 to 29-year-olds in the three years up to 2019.
Nearly two in three smokers, and one in five non-smokers aged 18 to 24, reported trying e-cigarettes, with those who had, using at least monthly.
The health consequences have been researched, with information outlining the harmful substances in e-cig liquids could increase the risk of lung disease, heart disease and cancer.
A 2021 study by Curtin University found that e-cigs contain harmful chemicals linked to bladder, lung and gastrointestinal cancers.
Respiratory medicine experts say higher levels of nicotine exposure cause neurophysical harm as well as causing coughs, wheezes and asthma in users.
All of the long-term effects, however, may not be known for years.
Front line fight
The mouth is the first part of the human body to encounter the noxious elements in vaping.
A 2021 study published in the Australian Dental Journal outlined the common side effects reported by patients.
They included mouth dryness, burning, irritation, bad taste, bad breath, pain, oral mucosal lesions, black tongue and burns. Throat symptoms included tonsillitis, tonsil stones, uvula inflammation, trachea swelling, and laryngitis.
The cloud made by vaping occurs when glycerol and glycol, and nicotine are heated to very high temperatures.
This process produces extremely toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. The mouth cops 45 per cent of those toxins. What’s left travels through the rest of the body, like the lungs.
Other research shows the saliva of e-cigarette users can contain carcinogens typically associated with conventional smoking.
Yet the commonly-held public perception is that vaping is just water with flavouring, so users think it’s safer than cigarette smoking.
But many vaping products contain nicotine at high and often unsafe levels, and there’s little research indicating e-cigarettes help smokers to quit smoking.
“Studies show that the use of e-cigarettes is expected to have adverse effects on the health of the oral cavity including higher risk of premalignant lesions and development of cancers,” Dr Yeoh said. “Additionally, there is a high risk of developing dry mouth, gum disease and oral fungal infections.”
Under 2021 federal laws, anyone wanting a vape product to quit smoking needs a doctor’s prescription to allow users a three-month supply.
Yet young people have been able to buy ‘under-the-counter’ vaping products at newsagents, convenience stores or finding and buying them online.
The NSW and Victorian governments have banned vaping in public places.
The Federal Department of Health is due to review current vaping restrictions in the second half of 2022.
Information courtesy of the Australian Dental Association. Visit teeth.org.au for more information.