Protecting Oral Health And Safeguarding Our Youth From Vape Dangers — Dr Janice Hew Pei Fang

Dental research has shown connections between vaping product use and gum disease and, separately, damage to the tooth’s enamel. Other possible effects include throat and mouth irritation, potentially leading to a higher risk of tooth decay and cavities.

As a dentist with years of experience practising in Malaysia, I frequently encounter teeth staining caused by tobacco products during dental checkups with our patients.

Typically, patients are receptive when we explain the potentially harmful effects of conventional cigarettes on their oral and gum health. However, it remains uncertain whether they will heed our advice later.

Dealing with vaping products, on the other hand, presents a more complex challenge. I have observed a significant increase in vape product users, both on the dental chair and randomly on the streets. 

This trend is deeply concerning, especially because many teenagers are starting to use vapes at an early age.

I was shocked when a 13-year-old Form 1 student proudly informed me that he had been vaping daily for over a year. This situation is highly dangerous, as many individuals mistakenly believe that vape products consist only of harmless flavoured water vapors. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Vaping products use a battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale. These ‘e-liquids’ usually contain nicotine, propylene glycol, flavours, and other chemicals. The use of vaping products is linked to the occurrence of nicotine addiction and EVALI.

What is EVALI? EVALI stands for E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury, a serious inflammatory condition that damages your lungs. A few months ago, in June, we received the sad news that a 16-year-old teen from Selangor with a three-year vaping history died from acute heart failure with pulmonary embolism, suspected due to EVALI.

Some dental research has shown connections between vaping product use and gum disease, and separately, damage to the tooth’s enamel. Other possible effects of vaping products on oral health include throat irritation and mouth irritation, which includes mouth dryness, potentially leading to a higher risk of tooth decay and cavities.

The general public may not be fully aware that addressing diseases and lung damage resulting from vaping is not only costly but also irreversible. This underscores the urgent need for increased awareness about the harms of vaping and stringent measures to prevent these health issues associated with vaping.

As health care professionals, it is our duty to actively engage in health awareness, health promotion, and health education for our patients, emphasizing prevention in relation to vaping products.

Health care professionals play a vital role in providing accurate information, correcting misconceptions, advocating cessation, and providing evidence-based guidance for cessation or referring them to appropriate cessation services.

In our daily practices, we should allocate time for discussions about the risks of vaping during routine history-taking or check-ups. By integrating these conversations into our consultations, we can reinforce the message that vaping is not a harmless activity. 

I believe many health care professionals, including me, were disappointed with the Ministry of Health’s decision to remove liquid and gel nicotine from the list of poisons set out in the Poisons Act 1952. By delisting the nicotine from the act, underage children could easily access vape products or be exposed to the harmful effects of vape products.

It is my sincere hope that the Ministry of Health stops the dilly-dallying and acts swiftly to pass the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, which aims to control the sale and purchase of tobacco products such as vape. 

Dr Janice Hew Pei Fang has served as a dentist in the Ministry of Health and the private sector for over four years.

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