Contrary to popular belief, vaping is not a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes.
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has received reports of more than 1,479 vaping-related lung illnesses and 33 deaths in the United States1, prompting some states to limit the sale of vaping products while officials investigate the source of the outbreak.
And now new research shows that e-cigarettes are not great for your oral health either.2
Some of vaping’s most common effects, like tooth staining, bad breath and dry mouth, may appear innocuous, but they may be reflective of the beginning of more serious oral health problems like gum disease and tooth decay.3 Problems in the mouth can have serious implications for overall health, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and pregnancy complications, according to Dr. Randi Tillman, Chief Dental Officer at Guardian.
“We’re learning more and more about the relationship between oral health and overall health,” says Dr. Tillman. “Inflammation in one part of the body—the mouth—can have an impact on the severity of inflammation in other parts of the body.”
Inflammation is a factor in other health problems like arthritis and some types of cardiovascular disease.4 And vaping, which is believed to contribute to the inflammatory process in the mouth, may have a domino effect on the health of someone suffering from these or similar conditions.
Dr. Tillman considers periodontal disease one of the most concerning health effects of vaping, but she warns that the most serious risks may still be unknown.
Vaping vs. smoking cigarettes
For Dr. Tillman, vaping is reminiscent of another, less recent fad: chewing tobacco. Originally pitched as a more health-conscious option than smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco turned out to pose a slew of health risks to people who used it, including cancer of the mouth.
Dr. Thomas Hart, Director of the American Dental Association Foundation, agrees that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking and may present even greater risks.
“450,000-480,000 people a year die from smoking cigarettes in the U.S. and beyond that, many more people have illnesses directly related to smoking, so to say that vaping is safer than that is not a very high bar,” Dr. Hart says.
Even as a method to stop smoking, Dr. Hart doesn’t recommend vaping. Some vaping products may contain as much or more nicotine than traditional cigarettes and many people continue to smoke traditional cigarettes after they begin vaping. And as vaping products vary so widely, simply vaping less doesn’t necessarily reduce the risk to a person’s health; it’s not just about how much you vape, it’s about what you vape.
“The problem with customizable vape liquids is that we don’t really know what’s in them,” Dr. Hart says.
At least 28 cancer-causing chemicals have been found in smokeless tobacco products, according to Guardian’s new study of vaping habits: “Vaping in America”.5
The unknown risks of vaping
Because it’s a relatively new practice, little research has been conducted on the long-term effects of vaping. Manufacturers of vaping products are largely unregulated, so even if the ingredients of a product are listed, the conditions under which they were manufactured are often unknown. The lack of transparency could result in a dramatically different final product, making it even more difficult to study the effects.
Meanwhile, customizable mixes and devices have created a booming DIY community around just the kind of practices that make vaping potentially more dangerous.
“Depending on the flavorings that are added to the vape mix, as well as the temperature to which the mix is heated, the ingredients and their toxicity can vary from one experience to the next,” Dr. Tillman explains.
Vaping culture also poses an outsized appeal to young people. According to the CDC, 9 out of 10 smokers start before they’re 18, and 98% start before age 26.6 Considering that vaping is most popular among young Millennials7, and that a myth of safety persists around the practice, vaping has the potential to get even more young people hooked on nicotine at a young age. Fruit flavorings for vape juices, for example, have been widely criticized for catering to the underaged, leading at least one manufacturer to pull the flavorings from shelves.8
So what can you do if you or someone you know currently vapes?
Avoid customizable vape juices to limit the immediate risk of lung disease. Visit your dentist regularly to help catch and prevent tooth decay, inflammation, or other conditions that may result from vaping.9 And if you’re vaping as an alternative to smoking, switch to a safer method to break the addiction to nicotine once and for all. Many experts agree no amount of vaping is safe, so the sooner you can break the habit the better. With so many potential unknown risks, it’s not worth taking the chance with your health.