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Savannah Lahey and Megan Merritt

Savannah Lahey
Savannah Lahey
Megan Merritt
Megan Merritt

Do sweeteners used in electronic cigarettes contribute to tooth decay? WVU senior dental hygiene students Savannah Lahey and Megan Merritt explored the effects four of the most common ones have on growth of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria responsible for dental cavities.

Lahey, of Charleston, West Virginia, and Merritt, of Monaca, Pennsylvania, decided to examine those additives in e-cigarette liquid to determine whether they increase the growth of that bacteria. The two presented “The Cariogenic Potential of Sweeteners in Vaping E-Liquid” at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Charleston.

Their results differed from what they expected. 

Q: Tell us about the findings of your research project?

A: Our research assessed four common sweeteners typically added to electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) vaping liquid – erythritol, ethyl maltol, sucralose and vegetable glycerin propylene glycol (VG/PG) – and their effect on Streptococcus mutans growth (the bacteria responsible for dental cavities). Our results showed that three of the vaping liquids, erythritol, ethyl maltol and VG/PG, either had no effect on or increased the growth of Streptococcus mutans over time. The sweetener sucralose, however, had the opposite effect and was found to drastically decrease the growth of Streptococcus mutans over time. Though this result is positive, the results of the other three vaping liquids continue to show Streptococcus mutans’ negative effect on oral health. Even with the result from the sweetener, sucralose, we strongly oppose vaping.

Q: What made you decide to study dental hygiene?

Lahey: Growing up in West Virginia, I realize that oral health is not prioritized. Coming from a low-income household, I have personal experience on the ways oral health affects an individual’s confidence and self-image, as well as total health. Seeing this growing up sparked my interest in dentistry. I knew dental hygiene was my ideal career path once I researched dental hygienists’ duties. I take pride in being able to drastically change someone’s smile or educate an individual on oral health. 

Merritt: I was born with ectodermal dysplasias, a genetic disease that affects ectodermal structures such as teeth, hair and nails. In my case, I was born congenitally missing five anterior teeth which resulted in years of dental work. I decided to study dental hygiene because of my own condition and struggles I faced regarding my own dentition. Growing up in dental offices and undergoing countless oral surgeries, I began to value the work of dentistry and how it can change someone’s life. I choose dental hygiene because I believe this profession gives so much back to the patient regarding oral health and self-confidence.

Q: What does the future hold?

Lahey: I have accepted a job in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a dental hygienist. I plan to work in the city for a few years while furthering my education in dentistry. 

Merritt: After obtaining my bachelor’s in dental hygiene, I plan to attend dental school where I hope to make a positive influence.

Q: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of school?

Lahey: In my spare time, I enjoy working out, going to WVU basketball games, watching TV and cooking. 

Merritt: I love to run, workout, cook and spend time with family and friends.

Q: What makes you smile?

Lahey: Spending time with my family and friends.

Merritt: Seeing a patient’s reaction to before/after photos following an extensive treatment journey.

Written by Linda Skidmore