As the use of electronic cigarettes has surged over the last several years, government health agencies and medical communities have struggled to keep up. Suppliers in the booming industry and some optimistic health experts argue that e-cigarettes present a safer alternative to traditional smoking, but that narrative is quickly losing steam. Health reports across the country are raising serious concerns about the safety of vaping, and most users that have picked up the habit are teenagers and young adults who never smoked before. While there’s no shortage of headlines on the dangers of vaping, as government officials are now calling it a health crisis and some states have issued outright bans, the effects on dental health have gone mostly unreported.

Here are some of the findings from the dental community:

Research suggests gum damage risks
With a recent outbreak of vape-related lung injury, public attention is now focused on the e-cig epidemic, but the dental community has been skeptical for several years. Back in 2016, a University of Rochester Medical Center study suggested that the use of electronic cigarettes is equally as damaging to gum tissue as conventional cigarettes. These early warnings seem to have gone unnoticed, as e-cigarette use in adolescents has exploded in the three short years since the study was published.

Chemicals contribute to tooth decay
Experts often blame the wide array of enticing flavors for the widespread use in younger populations. Studies now suggest the ingredients used to make these flavors may also exacerbate the breakdown of tooth enamel and lead to rampant tooth decay. The findings (and images) are not pretty.

Misconceptions & uncertainty play a huge role
Education should not be considered a scare tactic, and e-cigarettes may still be a promising alternative to traditional cigarettes for those looking to quit. That said, it is usually unwise to trust new products before research can be done and consumer protections are put in place. Teen users, along with their parents and teachers, were led to believe this new alternative to traditional cigarette smoking carried no health risk. This myth allowed the trend to become an epidemic long before government agencies and medical communities had the chance to research and regulate the industry. Without such intervention, consumers have no way of knowing how e-cigs interact with the human body or what chemicals are being used.

Takeaway: don’t be fooled, know the risks
As healthcare professionals, we must make decisions based on data and we tend to be skeptical when not much is available. We encourage our patients to do the same. Before assuming a product is safe, even if it may have the potential to solve a serious problem, do your research, talk to your health care providers and understand the risks. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.