While smoking is something that the vast majority of dental health professionals would like to see eradicated, the popular e-cigarettes that are replacing them do not seem to be much better. In some ways, they can be even be worse for your health. New research from the US suggests they can even strengthen harmful bacteria.
Researchers at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California in San Diego have found that the vapour from e-cigarettes can increase drug-resistant bacteria and damage the human body’s ability to fight them, which combined can be harmful and even life-threatening.
Live MRSA and human epithelial cells were exposed to e-cigarette vapour, and the results were recorded. The researchers found that this increased the virulence of the MRSA, which made it harder for the human body’s defences – antimicrobial peptides and macrophages – to kill the harmful cells.
The scientists found that while this was an alarming discovery, the smoke from cigarettes had very similar effects and even made the MRSA bacteria more aggressive. As such, it seems that in this case e-cigarettes are preferable to smoking tobacco.
However, anything that increases the numbers and virulence of the bacteria in people’s mouths is bad for dentists and their patients. It can easily lead to a whole host of negative effects, from tooth decay to possibly contracting the human papillomavirus, which can in turn lead to oral cancer.
One possible reason for the increase in virulence is that the cigarettes alter the pH level of the mouth, turning it from a relatively neutral 7.4 to a more alkaline 8.4. This is a better environment for bacteria, but not for human cells, so it strengthens the former while the latter gets weaker.
Dr Laura Crotty Alexander, lead investigator for the research, said: “As health care professionals, we are always being asked by patients, ‘Would this be better for me?’ In the case of smoking e-cigarettes, I hated not having an answer. While the answer isn’t black and white, our study suggests a response: even if e-cigarettes may not be as bad as tobacco, they still have measurable detrimental effects on health.”