A relatively new tobacco product on the market called the e-cigarette is often claimed to reduce nearly all the negative side effects of smoking, including cancers, lung disease and bad breath. Virtually none of these health claims have been verified. And while e-cigarettes take the smoke out of smoking, they do not remove the nicotine, which may still cause halitosis.
Also known as nicotine vaporizers, e-cigarettes look similar to real cigarettes, though they are made of metal and plastic. Inhaling through one causes a battery-powered heating element to vaporize a refillable liquid nicotine solution, which creates an inhalable mist that resembles real smoke.
Many e-cigarette manufacturers market their products as providing all the nicotine of a cigarette with none of the bad breath. While the former may be true, the latter isn't necessarily.
Studies have shown that even nicotine by itself may do harm to the mouth, gums and tongue. A report published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Periodontology has stated that nicotine may contribute significantly to the development of gingivitis and periodontitis, two gum diseases that can cause breath to smell foul.
Likewise, nicotine may increase the risk of tooth loss and dental decay, which also lead to bad breath. The study suggests that nicotine causes these conditions because it is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces blood flow to tissues in your mouth.
Without proper blood flow in the gums, white blood cells cannot properly fight off bacterial infections and red blood cells bring less oxygen to replenish the gum cells themselves.
Not only can these gum conditions leave your breath smelling less than fresh, but the microorganisms that cause them may have a hand in halitosis, too. The mouth is filled with over 600 varieties of bacteria, according to a 2003 issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. Many of these tend to flourish in a drier environment, and are called anaerobic bacteria.
When the mouth is dry, these germs can feed on dead cells and food particles emit volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), which can be very smelly. One of the most common VSCs, hydrogen sulfide, smells like rotten eggs.
As a vasoconstrictor, nicotine may contribute to dry mouth by reducing blood flow to the salivary glands. Without saliva, which naturally eliminates some oral bacteria, halitosis can quickly become a problem.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricts the sale of e-cigarettes. Besides avoiding nicotine, some ways to prevent bad breath include brushing twice a day, flossing and using specialty breath freshening rinses or tablets.