Vaping Changes Microbiome, Increases Infection Risk

Vaping Changes Mouth’s Microbiome—But Less Than Smoking

New research shows that vaping changes the mouth’s microbiome, making vapers more vulnerable to infection and inflammation. This is the first research on changes to the mouth’s microbiome—its local community of microorganisms such as bacteria—from vaping e-cigarettes.

The mouth is among the primary ways microbes enter and colonize the human body. It is already well-known that smoking traditional cigarettes causes physiological and structural changes in the mouth.

These changes increase the risk of gum disease and infection. This is because the changes wrought by smoking contribute to immune dysfunction and allow certain infection-causing bacteria to thrive.

Vaping Microbiome Study

In this study, the team examined how e-cigarette vapor changes the oral microbiome and affects immune health. The researchers also analyzed how vaping influences how efficiently oral pathogens are at infecting the mouth and gums.

The team tested how pro-inflammatory immune mediators responded to e-cigarette aerosol created by a machine. The researchers evaluated saliva samples and conducted oral exams to study the oral microbiome of 119 human participants.

Researchers placed participants in three groups: regular cigarette smokers, e-cigarette users, and never smokers. (It is worth noting that the “never smokers” were not necessarily never vapers, at least as far as I could tell from the study. This is relevant, because it’s possible to vape things other than e-cigarettes, and it’s not clear that all of these effects come solely from the liquids.)

Rates of infection or gum disease were significantly higher among cigarette smokers at 72.5 percent. Rates of infection or gum disease were lower but still elevated among e-cigarette vapers at 42.5 percent, compared to the non-smokers’s rate of 28.2 percent.

Vaping and Infection Risk

Interestingly, each group of participants had different microorganisms in their saliva. For example, they found Porphyromonas bacteria in high numbers among e-cigarette vapers. In contrast, the team found higher levels of Veillonella bacteria in both smokers and vapers, but not never smokers.

“The predominance of these periodontal pathogens in the mouths of e-cigarette users and traditional smokers is a reflection of compromised periodontal health,” study co-senior author and NYU College of Dentistry associate professor of basic science and craniofacial biology Xin Li said in press materials.

The team also concluded that vaping e-cigarettes alters the mouth’s microbiome in ways that influence the immune environment of the local host. Specifically, cytokines linked to inflammation were highly elevated in the participants vaping e-cigarettes.

The researchers also conducted cell studies, revealing an elevated inflammatory response caused by upregulation of IL-6. Vaping the e-cigarette aerosols caused the upregulation, which was also shown to raise infection risk by rendering cells more prone to bacterial infection.

The bottom line: vaping remains safer than smoking.

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