Switching to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may offer some oral health benefits for smokers, according to a new report released on January 23 from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. However, the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown.
The U.S. Congress mandated the academies to evaluate the evidence on the effects of e-cigarettes on human health. The report authors looked through more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and found only limited evidence that e-cigarettes may have some short-term benefits for oral and overall health compared with traditional cigarettes. But they also come with inherent risks.
"Taken together, human studies and in vitro studies suggest that e-cigarette aerosols can cause harm to oral health by inducing gingival inflammation in the oral cavity," wrote the authors, led by David Eaton, PhD. "Other studies comparing and contrasting the dental health of smokers to e-cigarette users suggest that e-cigarette use may be less harmful to oral health than continued smoking."
Eaton is a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle. He is also chair of the committee in charge of the report, which includes professors and researchers from universities and research centers across the U.S.
Health impacts of e-cigarettes
The goal of the report was to provide a comprehensive and systematic review of the scientific literature on e-cigarettes and health.
Traditional cigarette smokers who switched to e-cigarettes showed improved periodontal disease markers, the authors found. E-cigarette users were also exposed to significantly less toxic substances than traditional cigarette users, and e-cigarette users had a lower risk and severity of dependency than traditional cigarette smokers.
Furthermore, e-cigarettes may be able to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes, according to the report. Adults who switched to e-cigarettes showed reduced short-term adverse health outcomes for several organ systems. However, adolescents and young adults who use e-cigarettes have a higher risk of smoking traditional cigarettes.
It's too soon to say whether public health will benefit from or be harmed by e-cigarettes, the authors cautioned. They also stressed that more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes, including their effects on cancer, respiratory diseases, human reproduction and development, and oral health.
"Because e-cigarettes are so new, there is a lack of rigorously designed studies examining the effects of e-cigarettes on oral health," they wrote.