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Vaping and mouth microbes

Vaping negatively affects the mouth by introducing a number of unique bacterial species

Unfortunately, vaping and mouth microbes have been confounding for a number of reasons. Vaping or smoking electronic cigarettes is becoming more popular. In 2019, it was estimated 5% of the adult population in the U.S. reported using e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are thought to have less toxic compounds than conventional cigarettes. Still, nicotine and other dangerous metals like lead are present in vape cartridges than previously understood.

Conventional cigarettes are known as risk factors for the development of gum disease, or periodontitis. Some of this risk is perpetuated by changes in the bacterial communities that normally live in the mouth. But whether e-cigarettes induce similar changes hasn’t been well understood.

Vaping and mouth microbes
Vape pen

The study

A team of researchers from New York University led by Drs. Deepak Saxena and Xin Li examined 84 volunteers over a six-month period:

  • 27 people who smoked conventional cigarettes.
  • 28 who only used e-cigarettes.
  • And 29 nonsmokers.
  • All participants had at least mild gum disease at the start of the study.
  • To reduce other factors that could affect the oral microbiome, none had their teeth cleaned during the study period.

The team compared the types of bacteria found at the gum line at the beginning and end of the six-month study. Also, inflammation markers and immune cell activity were compared as well.

The results

During the study the number of unique bacterial species or alpha diversity—living in and around the gums increased for all participants. This can be a sign of gum disease getting worse.

The specific types of microbes found in the oral microbiomes differed substantially between the three groups. There was a core set of species common among the groups, but each also had unique features. They were so distinct that a machine-learning program could use the oral microbiome to predict which group people were in with 74% accuracy.

However, the program was least accurate at picking out e-cigarette users. The patterns of their oral microbes shared characteristics with both smokers and nonsmokers, with slightly more similarities to smokers. Consequently, unique traits among e-cigarette users included enrichment with bad bacteria species. Both of these bacteria species are linked with gum disease.

Interestingly, several markers of inflammation and immune response were also higher in smokers and e-cigarette users than in nonsmokers. But again, these patterns differed between smokers and e-cigarette users.

Also, more work will be needed to better understand how vaping and mouth microbes are affected and how this potentially affects gum health and disease.


Written by Sharon Reynolds

Edited by Robert Harlan

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