Swapping out bad habits for healthier habits is an excellent way to improve your health. Whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or replacing sugary drinks with water, the benefits to your body add up. But there’s one so-called healthy swap that may not be as healthy as you think it is. Vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes, is being touted as the safer, healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. But is it really safer or healthier? We asked dentist Dr. Kelley Mingus of Bend, Oregon, what’s the official story about vaping. His response may surprise you.
"No, vaping is not safer than smoking, by any means," says Mingus.
So, why not?
Well, for starters according to Mingus, vaping is still packed with dangerous chemicals like nicotine that are both addictive and harmful to your oral health.
"Nicotine stains your teeth, and actually makes it easier for foods and beverages to stain your teeth too," he says. "It discolors the tartar that builds up on your teeth and makes it harder to remove."
That tartar at the gumline is responsible for problems of its own, including cavities and gingivitis or periodontitis.
In addition to tartar buildup, Mingus says the heat from the vapor can cause dry mouth, which is also a known cause of cavities.
"Xerostomia, or dry mouth, can increase bacteria in the mouth because there is no saliva to rinse it away," he says. "As a result you’re putting yourself at an elevated risk for cavities."
And that’s just what the active ingredients do, says Mingus.
Another issue? The amounts of active ingredients really aren’t regulated, so some fluids may have more than others without the user even realizing it.
The vaping pens themselves have proven to be dangerous, too, with reports of pens with lithium ion batteries literally exploding in users’ mouths.
"People have lost teeth, bone and facial tissue from these devices exploding," Mingus says.
Mingus is also careful to note that there simply isn’t a lot of data on the safety or lack thereof of vaping fluid.
"We simply don’t know what the long-term effects of vaping will be on the body, because it's still too new of a product," says Mingus. "It could turn out to be more dangerous than smoking, and we may not realize it until 10, 20 years from now."
And then there’s the flavoring, which is often sweet, a move which is attracting younger and younger consumers to try vaping.
"We don’t know the effects the sweeteners have on the teeth just yet, and with vapers getting younger and younger, they could cause a lot more damage early on," Mingus says.
Ultimately, vaping remains a big "buyer beware," says Mingus.
"It's up to the user to exercise common sense, but don’t believe the hype that just because there’s no tar and no smoke this product is somehow superior," he says.