The Explosive Danger of E-Cigs

May 25, 2016, by Dr. Becky Coats

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs have become much more popular recently, with millions of units in use across the country. As the popularity of these units has expanded, so has our awareness of the dangers they present. Although we are still unclear how these devices may impact your oral health through the chemicals they introduce, we are seeing enough reports of the explosive malfunctions of the devices — many of which cause traumatic tooth injuries — that we can say these are not isolated incidents and deserve more attention.

How Common Are the Explosions?

It’s hard to know just how many e-cigs are exploding. With other types of products, there are good reporting mechanisms that allow people to share malfunctions they experience. But e-cigs don’t have those, yet, partly because they remain an unregulated product, so we have to work with media reports.

Just looking at media reports of incidents, this investigation found 30 cases of exploding e-cigs from 2012 to 2015. With over 3 million vapers in the US, this isn’t very many cases of explosions, but they’re almost certainly underreported. One US burn center reported six cases of serious burns in just the first two months of the year. The specialized burn center serves about two million people, according to its figures, so we might estimate 5-6000 serious burn injuries from e-cigs per year in the US.

What Causes the Explosions?

E-cigs use a small heating element to vaporize liquid containing nicotine, flavors, and other compounds. The heating element is powered by a small but energetic battery, which is the source of all these explosions. These lithium-ion batteries are so useful that they are used in a wide range of devices, but they’re also so dangerous that the shipping and transport of them in airplanes has recently been restricted.

Most of the time (perhaps 80%), the explosions and fires occur while the device is charging. However, other times the devices explode while being used or simply in storage. Because the devices aren’t well-regulated, manufacturing standards may be low. With the expanding market targeting youth and other people with tight budgets, there is a powerful incentive to make the devices more cheaply. This may lead manufacturers to work with suppliers that may not have the highest standards.

Another problem is that users may not be careful about their handling of the devices. It’s normal for people to use interchangeable chargers on different devices, but this may be problematic for e-cigs, leading to overcharging.

Are They Safer Than Traditional Cigarettes?

One controversy about e-cigs is advertising that seems to suggest that they are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. Without good figures about the injury rates, we can’t know how the two compare, but it’s important to note that traditional cigarettes are blamed for nearly 500,000 deaths and 7500 house fires each year.

As far as oral health goes, we don’t yet have information to tell us whether e-cigs will be less damaging. Some aspects of traditional cigarettes are missing, such as tar and other elements of smoke, so there will be less tooth staining and some other health effects, possibly including gum disease and tooth loss. However, there is still nicotine, which can impact your gums, and there are other compounds introduced whose health risks are unknown. We will just have to wait and see and deal with health hazards as they become known.

If you are looking for a Grapevine dentist to help protect you from oral health hazards of e-cigs and traditional cigarettes, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with Dr. Becky Coats at Grapevine Dental Care.