11:45 AM

How Oral Health Education Can Help Curb the Rise in Teen Vaping

As November 18 marks the annual Great American Smokeout — a campaign by the American Cancer Society to support and encourage people to quit smoking — it’s an important time to consider the oral health community’s role in curbing smoking and the teen vaping epidemic. That role is particularly important when you consider the highly addictive nature of nicotine and its effect on teenage brains and oral health.

Common oral health side effects of vaping include burns or mouth sores, dry mouth, bad breath, swollen gums, and tooth decay. E-cigarette devices have also been known to explode, which can lead to significant oral trauma, ranging from broken teeth to broken jaw bones.

That's why DentaQuest has partnered with CATCH My Breath, a national nicotine and vaping-prevention program, to provide its anti-vaping curriculum to schools and communities across the country, with a focus on the effects to oral health. The program operates in all 50 states and has served more than 1.4 million students.

This work takes on a renewed sense of urgency, as a recent report shows that for the first time in more than 20 years, cigarette sales actually increased. Vaping trends among youth also continue to rise. According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, use of disposable e-cigarettes in particular has skyrocketed, with an increase in usage of 100% for high schoolers and 400% for middle schoolers. This is particularly troubling when you consider that youth who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes compared with their peers who don’t vape.

Educating young people about vaping and the risks to your oral health is an important piece of reversing those trends, and one that DentaQuest and CATCH My Breath are tackling together.

“Oral health is significantly affected from vaping e-cigarettes,” says Marcella Bianco, program director for CATCH My Breath. “That’s why we provide supplemental programming for middle and high school students to learn about vaping’s effects on oral health because I do think there is a misconception and students don’t understand the oral health impacts yet; we’re starting to really see those effects now.”

With DentaQuest’s support, CATCH My Breath is creating and launching curriculum for middle and high school grades to cover the intersection of vaping and oral health. It includes supplemental lessons and videos, as well as toolkits and a range of resources for parents, dentists, educators and teens.

DentaQuest’s Dr. Monica Anderson worked with CATCH My Breath on the program development. “When we developed this curriculum, we wanted to make it accessible, and having a virtual component has been an important part of that. During the pandemic, many schools have implemented the program as part of their remote lesson plans, which has allowed us to reach even more people,” said Anderson. “Teen vaping remains a serious concern, but DentaQuest is committed to giving communities the information and resources they need to help curb this behavior so young people can stay safe and healthy — and that includes oral health.”

The good news is, we know that CATCH My Breath’s anti-vaping and cessation programs for teens are making a difference. A January 2020 peer-reviewed study demonstrated the program’s effectiveness and was published in Public Health Reports, the official journal of the U.S. Surgeon General. It found that e-cigarette use was significantly lower among middle schools that implemented the CATCH My Breath program than among those that did not.

Bianco says that dentists, parents, teachers, and fellow students can all play a role in talking to teens about the risks of vaping and how to quit – it just starts with a conversation.

To learn more about CATCH My Breath’s curriculum and resources, visit catchmybreath.org.

Additional resources, including nationally recognized cessation programs, include: