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Food Literacy? There’s Room for Improvement

grocery store aisleAsk a typical American where their food comes from, and they’ll probably say something like “the grocery store.” Beyond that, they might not even want to know – just so long as the food they want is there when they want it.

The depths of food illiteracy were recently seen in a new dairy industry survey.

Among the most shocking findings? Almost half of American adults aren’t sure where chocolate milk comes from. Seven percent actually believe that chocolate milk comes only from brown cows.

Really.

If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

Other research cited in the same article found more than half of urban California fourth- through sixth-graders “didn’t know pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants.”

Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows. And 3 in 10 didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.

The problem of food illiteracy isn’t unique to Americans. A recent survey from the British Nutrition Foundation

found that children between the ages of 5 and 16 have real misconceptions about what they’re eating. Among them: the belief that pasta comes from animals, which about a tenth of 8- to 11-year-olds subscribe to.

…The poll also found that about a fifth of 5- to 7-year-olds believe fish fingers contain chicken. And another 29 percent of them thought cheese was a plant….

Such beliefs don’t necessarily signal a lack of intelligence. They do show that a good many of us are very divorced from the source of our sustenance.

If you grew up in the country, you probably have an idea of how “farm-to-table” actually works. Otherwise, it’s quite reasonable to think that food comes in packages and leave it at that. Food, in that world, is a consumer good, and who thinks about how any consumer good winds up in our hands, the path it took from raw materials to the item we bought online?

The simple fact is that most of us have handed over our food and nutrition needs to third parties. That’s why labeling matters as much as it does. If we don’t make or grow the food ourselves, it’s one of the main ways we have to know much of anything at all about it.

Industrialization reduces food to simply a matter of consumption. We come to think of it as fuel or as a delivery system for nutrients and not as something that’s also important socially, culturally. Just think about any special occasion: a holiday, a birthday, a first date, a funeral. Chances are, food is at the center of it – not for the nutrition it delivers but for its ability to bring us together in our shared humanity.

Improving food literacy could take us a very long way toward improving the health of our nation – indeed, of our world. Alice Waters’ Edible Classroom project is perhaps the most notable effort to reconnect kids with nature through food, and it’s certainly spawned many imitators. After all, it offers beautiful evidence of how kids gravitate toward the real when given the chance.

Image by Sean Gregor

Probiotics, Prebiotics, & Oral Health

bacteriaMost all of us grow up being taught that “germs” cause disease and that the best defense is to kill them. But science has shown that this is an oversimplification.

We know that the environment in which pathogens exist makes a big difference in whether they thrive or not – just as soil quality and other environmental factors determine whether a plant thrives or not.

We also know that our bodies contain more bacteria than human cells. We’re beginning to understand how the makeup of our microbiome can affect our health for better or for worse. As microbiological John G. Thomas has put it,

The accepted concept today is that there are multiple organisms with the ability to interact in multiple ways. The means of bringing these biofilm communities back into balance is best achieved not through use of antimicrobials, but by reestablishing a normal flora, aided by probiotic agents.

You already probably know a bit about probiotics – bacteria that support good health. You can get them naturally through fermented foods, yogurt, and some cheeses. You can also get them through supplements or foods fortified with them. So far, the research on their dental benefits in particular has been quite promising, showing how probiotics may stave off caries (tooth decay), periodontal (gum) disease, bad breath, and more.

Meanwhile, the focus has shifted away from “killing germs” to supporting the balance of helpful and harmful bacteria in the mouth. Indeed, it would be impossible – let alone desirable – to remove all microbes from the mouth, or even just the bad ones. There are billions of them in even the cleanest mouth, representing several hundred different species.

What we want is for the good to outweigh microbes like P. gingivalis and S. mutans that generate oral disease. Probiotics may help, and so might prebiotics.

Where probiotics are the actual healthy bacteria, prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that help probiotics work their magic. Again, Dr. Thomas:

Prebiotics are food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system, in ways claimed to be beneficial to health. Marcel Roberfroid offered a refined definition in the Journal of Nutrition stating, “A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.” Prebiotics effectively stimulate the colonization of the probiotic microorganisms, providing an initial advantage to their adherence.

Earlier this year, scientists writing in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology identified two compounds that could be effective as oral prebiotics specifically.

Two compounds, beta-methyl-d-galactoside and N-acetyl-d-mannosamine, could be identified as potential oral prebiotic compounds, triggering selectively beneficial oral bacteria throughout the experiments and shifting dual species biofilm communities towards a beneficial dominating composition at in vitro level.

Our observations support the hypothesis that nutritional stimulation of beneficial bacteria by prebiotics could be used to restore the microbial balance in the oral cavity and by this promote oral health.

Even though much research remains to be done on prebiotics for oral health, some hygiene products have begun to emerge. It’s a bit too early to gauge how helpful they may be.

Stay tuned for further developments…

Ditch the Juice, Go for the Whole Fruit

oranges and juiceHow much juice should you let your kids drink? If they’re younger than one, zero, zilch, nada.

That’s according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And that’s the best part of the news.

Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.

But that implies some nutritional benefit to kids over a year old. And that’s a sketchy claim at best. As nutritional consultant Dr. Mike Roussell has put it,

There aren’t any benefits to drinking fruit juice over eating whole fruits. In fact, eating whole fruit is a better choice. In regards to vegetables, the only benefit to vegetables juices is that it might enhance your consumption of vegetables; but you’ll miss out on some key health benefits by juicing.

As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out years ago, when you eat whole fruit, you get the total nutritional package: vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients. When you juice, these get delivered with concentrated sugar – sometimes even more sugar than you’d get in a can of soda pop.

Really.

And that’s not good at any age. As one 2016 review put it, while there are still research gaps to be bridged by science,

Sufficient evidence links a high intake of sugar to dental caries and obesity, and high intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages in particular to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other research has confirmed that, like diet soda, fruit juice is not apt to be a “healthy alternative…to sugar sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

“Fruit juice,” notes the AAP, “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

Whole fruit, on the other hand, has such a role. Many fruits also tend to be high in vitamin C, which is essential for healthy gums. Crunchy fruit such as apples also help stimulate saliva flow that helps protect the teeth.

And what does juice do? Bathes the teeth in sugar and acids, destroying tooth enamel and making the teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Ditch the juice. Go for the fruit.

A Look Back at…Biocompatibility & Dental Implants

Updated from the original post for August 4, 2016

Replace a Tooth by Mimicking Your Body’s Nature

Dr. Masoud Attar & Dr. Hamid Shafie

Dr. Attar with dental implant expert Dr. Hamid Shafie at a 2016 implant seminar in San Francisco

As we say on our home page, perfection is our passion – which is perhaps the biggest reason why Dr. Attar consistently pursues additional training and education. You can’t achieve perfection without being a perpetual student.

In fact, there’s a quote well-known in dental circles, by a fellow named G.V. Black, who’s considered the father of operative dentistry: “The professional man has no right other than to be a continuous student.”

Among the best learning opportunities Dr. Attar has had over the past year was a seminar in San Francisco that focused on replacing missing teeth with zirconia (ceramic) implants.

As a biological office, we constantly strive to use the most compatible materials for our patients. We know many of you have worked hard to eliminate metals from your mouth. We also believe when you’re looking for a way to replace your missing tooth, you shouldn’t have to compromise. While many offices place conventional metal alloy implants (usually titanium), we use only ceramic for the dental implants we place.

Here are 6 reasons why:

  1. Biocompatibility

    While any material placed in the body has the potential to react, zirconia appears to be very biocompatible for most patients. The firm bond that establishes itself between the bone and the ceramic implant is believed to be bio-inert. This means your body doesn’t react with an inflammatory response as it would with a foreign body.

    In contrast, research shows titanium-based implants both corrode and degrade, generating metallic debris. This debris may have harmful biological effects over time, including the development of renal hepatic injury and renal lesions.

    Additionally, an increasing number of individuals with titanium implants, dental or orthopedic, present with allergies, sensitivities and other skin and immune reactions that necessitate removing the implant from the body. These reactions happen over time with continued exposure to the metal. An allergy or reaction to a dental implant may cause pain, inflammation, infection, bone loss and implant removal. Material testing for implant materials should be considered, especially metals.

  2. Maintenance

    dental implant illustrationRegardless of the type of implant material you select, much attention should be giving to keeping the gum tissue around it clean. Like teeth, implants can fail if bacteria accumulate along the gum. To complicate the matter, tissue doesn’t attach to an implant in the same way it attaches to your natural teeth.

    But research indicates the lack of electric conductivity in ceramic implants makes it harder for bacteria to stick. This makes it easier to maintain healthy tissue with proper cleaning technique. And unlike a bridge, which can be hard to floss effectively, an implant, for all practical purposes, is like a tooth. You can, and should, floss like you do with your natural teeth.

  3. Meridian flow

    Because they’re biologically inert, zirconia implants may offer the best option for maintaining meridian flow from tooth to organ, and organ to tooth. This is especially important to those who employ the principles of acupuncture and pay particular attention to their body’s meridian flow and blockage.

    Not familiar with this concept? You can learn more about it here.

  4. Esthetics

    In contrast to titanium implants’ grey color, ceramic implants are white. This may not seem like a big deal because, let’s face it, they’re implanted in the gums. But in patients with gum tissue recession or thin gums, the grey cast of titanium can become visible. Ceramic implants, on the other hand, retain a natural look with no grey shadow or show through.

  5. Biomimicry in Design

    Ceramic implants have been optimally designed to mimic your natural tooth. Like your tooth, ceramic implants are a one-piece design. There’s no abutment connected with a fixation screw as you commonly see in titanium implant designs.

  6. Functionality

    When you’re looking at replacing a tooth, you want it to be successful. You don’t want to have to revisit this tooth again. To succeed, it must hold up with how you use your mouth, especially the forces of chewing. By creating the diameter and length to that of natural teeth, ceramic implants are foundationally tempered to withstand chewing force.

Any way you look at it – functionally, aesthetically, holistically – when opting for implants, ceramic is clearly the best option for mimicking your natural teeth.

What’s All This about Activated Charcoal?

charcoalOf course, oil pulling is just one of a number of natural at-home health practices that more and more folks have been talking about. Another you may be hearing more about these days is activated charcoal. Claims about it range from instant teeth whitening to a good digestive cleanse.

But what do we know about it really?

We’re Not Talking Briquettes

When you hear “charcoal,” your thoughts probably turn to the stuff you might fuel your barbecue grill with. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen. This makes it more porous, which makes it more absorbent.

This is why it’s been a go-to treatment for overdose or poisoning. It absorbs toxins so they can’t be absorbed into the stomach.

A classic and frequently cited early demonstration with charcoal was the ingestion of a lethal dose of strychnine mixed with charcoal by Tovery before the 1831 French Academy of Medicine. Tovery suffered no ill effects from the strychnine because of the simultaneous ingestion of charcoal. Similarly, the American physician Hort, by administering oral charcoal, reportedly saved the life of a patient in 1834 who ingested mercury bichloride.

When used for acute poisoning, activated charcoal is given in extremely large doses. But in small doses, it can be used as a supplement.

Activated charcoal comes in a powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. The powder is typically mixed with water for topical applications on teeth or as a face mask. The liquid and pill forms are typically ingested in small doses (along with large amounts of water) to help with digestion or to remove harmful toxins like mold from the body (yep, mold – in the body).

What’s Charcoal Good For?

A literature review in the Natural Medicine Journal found good or still unclear scientific evidence for activated charcoal’s use in treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to kidney disease. The author also mentions a range of other uses of the supplement based on tradition, hypotheses, or limited research. These include

Aging, asthma, blood disorders, blood purifier, bronchial asthma, deodorant, disease diagnosis, inflammatory skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, ulcerative colitis.

But it has its uses in dentistry, as well. For instance, mercury-safe dentists may give patients charcoal before and after removing a patient’s amalgam fillings to protect against any mercury that may accidentally be swallowed during the procedures. (Others use chlorella, a single-celled micro-algae that’s also effective for detox.)

It’s also something that some of our patients may be recommended as part of their formal detox regimen, as it binds heavy metals so well.

activated charcoal supplementIncreasingly, we also see people using it at home for teeth whitening – as has been done throughout history. In addition to removing stains, it may also improve oral pH and help keep oral flora in balance (supporting the helpful bacteria, fighting the harmful). Because of this, it’s also said to help tame bad breath, as well.

That said, if you have crowns, veneers, or other tooth-colored dental work, using charcoal can stain such restorations terribly. If you have any, cleaning with charcoal is not for you.

And if you’re thinking about taking activated charcoal as a supplement? Do consult a qualified integrative or naturopathic practitioner before you begin – particularly if you are taking other supplements or medications (including homeopathic ones), or if you are currently being treated for any health conditions. Even supplements can have bad interactions or may trigger troubling side effects.

How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

Want to Beat Tooth Decay? Address the Cause

There are plenty of reasons to say no to fluoridation, but what about fluoride applied directly to the teeth?

If the idea is to prevent decay, a new study in the Journal of Dental Research suggests that, at best, it may minimize damage but not prevent it all together.

fluoride varnish For this study, researchers followed 1248 young, caries-free children over the course of three years. (“Caries” is the clinical term for tooth decay.) Half the kids got a “preventive package” of fluoride varnish, fluoride toothpaste, toothbrush, and standard dental education every 6 months. The other group got education only.

By the end of the study, 39% of the kids in the control group had developed caries. So had 34% of those who got fluoride.

The mean number of cavities was 9.6 in the control group…and 7.2 in the fluoride group.

The “success” of fluoride here is clearly underwhelming.

The trial had high retention and compliance rates but failed to demonstrate that it did keep children caries free. There is evidence from the trial that once children develop caries, the intervention does slow down its progression. [emphasis added]

So what if, instead of trying to mitigate damage we were to actually prevent it by addressing its cause?

That cause is, of course, the overconsumption of sugars. In the rush to fluoridate, this tends to be forgotten. As another paper in the JDR put it,

The importance of sugars as a cause of caries is underemphasized and not prominent in preventive strategies. This is despite overwhelming evidence of its unique role in causing a worldwide caries epidemic. Why this neglect? One reason is that researchers mistakenly consider caries to be a multifactorial disease; they also concentrate mainly on mitigating factors, particularly fluoride. However, this is to misunderstand that the only cause of caries is dietary sugars. These provide a substrate for cariogenic oral bacteria to flourish and to generate enamel-demineralizing acids. Modifying factors such as fluoride and dental hygiene would not be needed if we tackled the single cause—sugars. [emphasis added]

Other research suggests that caries can be prevented by limiting sugar intake to less than 3% of your total daily calories. (For a 2000-calorie per day diet, that’s just 60 calories or about 15.5 grams of sugar a day; for a 1500-calorie diet, a mere 45 calories or about 11.5 grams. To put that in perspective, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola and 47 grams in a bag of Skittles.)

At the same time, increasing intake of nutrient-dense whole foods further supports your teeth’s natural ability to remineralize, protecting them from the oral pathogens (“bad bugs”) that cause decay. Toothpastes containing theobromine may also be helpful as a part of a good, overall home hygiene plan.

Bottom line? Decay and cavities are not inevitable. But preventing them isn’t up to fluoride. It’s up to you.

Image via healthcare-news

We’re #45! The State of Our State’s Oral Health

Texas flag in shape of stateTexas does not come out looking good in the latest rankings on dental health.

According to a pair of reports recently released by WalletHub, Texas ranks near the bottom for

  • The lowest percentage of kids with excellent/very good teeth (#47).
  • The highest percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year (#46).
  • Highest percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to an oral condition (#51 – dead last).

Overall, Texas ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia ranked worse. While our “Dental Habits and Care” rank is a middle-of-the-road 27, our state’s “Oral Health” rank is a miserable 47.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement. (And in case you’re wondering, Minnesota was #1 in overall dental health.)

As we’ve noted before, good oral health habits start in youth. The foundation of healthy eating, proper hygiene, and regular dental visits should be laid early. Taking an active, preventive approach to your child’s oral health can mean fewer (and cheaper) dental visits for their lifetime.

Kids who grow up with dental neglect as the norm often become those adults who shun the dentist.

In some cases, it’s because it’s just not something they do, but in other cases, anxiety may be at the root of it. Sometimes the fear is of finding out about problems caused by years of neglect and the cost of addressing them. Sometimes, a bad dental experience can grow into dental fear. Others struggle with their response to particular sounds, smells, or sensations experienced during treatment.

Whatever the cause, there are ways to get the better of that fear – from herbal remedies (e.g., valerian root) to listening to relaxing music through headphones to sedation dentistry.

The most important thing? Let your dentist, hygienists, and assistants know about your apprehensions. We want to do everything we can to help make their visits as relaxing, gentle, and pleasant as possible.

For good oral health is essential to your quality of life. Low life satisfaction can result when oral problems make it hard to eat and chew, for instance, or embarrassment over the state of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, “More than one out of three low-income adults say they avoid smiling and 17 percent report difficulty doing usual activities because of the condition of their mouth and teeth.”

Indeed, oral health is, as the title of a study last year in the Journals of Gerontology put it, a “neglected aspect of subjective well-being.”

A deterioration in oral health and oral health–related quality of life increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults and highlights the importance of oral health as a determinant of subjective well-being in later life.

In the end, it’s important to remember that dental healthcare doesn’t need to be scary and can be a solution to increasing overall life satisfaction. Talk with your dentist about options that may be available to help you get through any concerns you and your family have.

While it might cause temporary stress and anxiety, remember that regular visits for cleaning and check-ups, partnered with healthy lifestyle and dental habits like avoiding processed foods and brushing and flossing daily, can save you a lot of stress in the long run – both emotional and financial.

Image by AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek

Do Crooked Teeth Predict Your Death?

It’s a headline built to make parents freak out:

Daily Mail headline

And as is usually the case, the reality behind the headline isn’t quite so sensational. Impressive, yes. Sensational? No.

The reality is new research out of the University of Washington School of Dentistry, which “suggests that an asymmetric lower face is a novel marker that also captures early life stresses that occur after birth.” Those early stresses can lay the foundation for ill health later in life.

[Study author Philippe] Hujoel, a professor in the UW School of Dentistry, described a crooked, or asymmetric, bite as the teeth biting backward or forward on one side of the face and normally on the other side. Backward-biting asymmetries, the most common lower-face asymmetry in the U.S. population, were found to fluctuate randomly between the left and right sides of the face. Such randomness is evidence for early life stress, he said.

Hujoel emphasized that crooked teeth, overbites and underbites are different than an asymmetric bite. Those conditions can be associated with asymmetric and symmetric bites, the latter of which is largely a reflection of genetics, not environmental stress, he said.

So, no, crooked teeth don’t predict early death in and of themselves. It’s the bite that’s telling – how the teeth come together. Even then, an asymmetric bite isn’t a death warrant, particularly if you take action to support your health and lower your risk of all manner of chronic diseases.

malocclusionThere’s also plenty you can do to correct bite problems, whether they’re the result of early environmental stresses or later ones. In fact, correcting issues with the bite can lead to overall health improvements.

Consider bruxing, for instance – habitual clenching and grinding, often during sleep. While commonly associated with stress, it can also be an unconscious way of coping with a bad bite or even a compromised airway. Bruxing, in turn, is associated with sleep apnea in both adults and children.

And sleep apnea is associated with a wide range of chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Interventions like oral appliance therapy and appliance-free DTR can do wonders for correcting bite-related problems. Lifestyle changes – especially in the area of diet and nutrition – can likewise be of help. The specific approach, the best approach, depends on your specific health situation and how it got that way.

For above all, and always, we want to treat the cause, not just help you mask or “manage” symptoms.

Image by Parveen chopra

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Vaping is Safer than Smoking, Right? Wrong

hand holding e-cigaretteIn a way, vaping is kind of like mercury amalgam: Despite those who insist that it’s safe, it’s not.

It’s certainly not any safer or healthier than smoking. While many believe it can help a person quit smoking, the evidence suggests that it actually encourages it, especially in teens (who also happen to be much more likely to vape than smoke, by the way).

And like smoking, vaping also does a number on oral and systemic health alike.

Targeting the Youth Market

Let’s look at the marketing. Here in the US, e-cigarettes are currently advertised differently than regular cigarettes and tobacco.

Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes can be advertised on both TV and the radio in the United States. In some states, e-cig makers can even sell their products to minors. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, but they usually do deliver hits of nicotine. That’s the chemical in tobacco that makes smoking addictive.

But things are set to change in a couple years. Still, for now, e-cigarettes aren’t included in the FDA’s ban on cigarette and tobacco broadcast ads.

Flavors for these e-cigs (oh look, they have a cool name, too!) include everything from watermelon and mint to Strawberrylicious and Peach Pit. A simple online search results in hundreds flavors that could be commonly mistaken as candy flavors. Not only can this be seen as targeting the youth market, websites commonly refer to them as “juices.”

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen alarming increases in teen vaping.

From 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second straight year.

What’s the Harm?

Regulations of vaping are still in their infancy. Only last year did the FDA say it would start regulating e-cigs, along with other unconventional tobacco products. But that doesn’t go into effect until 2018.

Until that time, the nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes will remain on the market – before FDA is able to fully evaluate them.

And the upshot? “We don’t presently know what is in e-cigarettes,” as the American Lung Association puts it, just nicotine and “other chemicals.”

That alone should give reason to pause. But the research to date gives even more reason.

For instance, recent research out of Johns Hopkins adds to the evidence that toxic heavy metals are commonly inhaled along with the vapor.

In an examination of five e-cigarette brands’ first-generation devices, researchers found varying levels of cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel in the liquid component that, when heated, delivers ingredients such as nicotine and flavors to the user. Researchers believe the main source of the metals — which can be toxic or carcinogenic when inhaled — is the coil that heats the liquid to create the aerosol, which is commonly (but erroneously) referred to as vapor. [emphasis added]

The “juices,” meantime, typically include propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, along with nicotine and mystery flavoring. Although the FDA approves of propylene glycol as a food additive, it’s also found in products such as aircraft de-icing fluid and antifreeze.

There’s also evidence that vaping is cytotoxic – that is, poisonous to cells. A study published last year in Oral Oncology found that it also does genetic damage, as well.

E-cigarette vapor, both with and without nicotine, is cytotoxic to epithelial cell lines and is a DNA strand break-inducing agent. Further assessment of the potential carcinogenic effects of e-cigarette vapor is urgently needed.

And just like smoking, vaping can wreck your gums. In fact, recent research suggests e-cigarettes may be even more damaging to the cells in your mouth than regular cigarettes.

Clearly, vaping is no safe alternative. The only safe alternative is to avoid nicotine products all together. And if you’ve already started but are ready to quit, here are some great tips to get you started.

Image by Lindsay Fox