When it comes to oral health and wellness, there has always seemed to be a desire to find the “next big thing” like oil pulling, charcoal toothpaste and teeth bleaching. Examples are documented throughout history, like the ancient practice in Asia that had people staining their teeth black in an attempt to prevent tooth decay. Pretty unheard-of in today’s “white teeth are better” world.
What will the history books say about our fads? Dr. Brittany Riley, a Family Health Center dentist, helps examine a few.
Oil pulling is a practice that originated in India to purify the body by “pulling” toxins out through the gums. To do so, you swish oil around in your mouth for an extended period of time (usually 15-20 minutes).
“There are some limited studies that show oil pulling with sesame oil for an extended period of time helps improve bad breath by reducing bacteria in your mouth,” said Dr. Riley. “With that being said, some current antimicrobial mouth rinses do the same thing and require you to swish for a much shorter amount of time.”
Dr. Riley added that there aren’t many risks from oil pulling. The biggest issue is when someone replaces proven practices such as brushing and flossing with oil pulling. The risk of cavities and gum disease increase because plaque is not being removed from the teeth.
Whitening teeth using activated charcoal is very popular. Many people give it a try because charcoal is a natural compound made from burnt wood or vegetation.
“On the plus side, it is inexpensive and can be easily found by itself or added to toothpaste,” Dr. Riley said. “It works well for removing surface stains from enamel, the outer-most layer of a tooth. However, charcoal is very abrasive and can permanently damage the enamel.”
Teeth whitening and teeth bleaching
Teeth whitening and teeth bleaching are often used interchangeably. But there are differences.
Teeth whitening is when someone has discoloration on their teeth and would like to go back to their natural white hue. Products do not contain bleaching materials. They are made with abrasives to help eliminate stain and sometimes contain hydrogen peroxide.
Teeth bleaching is when teeth are whitened beyond their natural color. Bleaching materials are commonly administered in a dental office or given to patients to take home. They usually contain a higher potency of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide.
“For most people, whitening is the way to go,” said Dr. Riley. “It has fewer side effects and is more cost-friendly.
Also called mouthpiece toothbrushes, hands-free brushes are battery-powered and shaped like a retainer or a “U.”
“The concept is a good one, but these devices do not clean, as promised,” Dr. Riley said. “The bristles are made to a generic length so they are not long enough to reach some people’s teeth surface adequately. Our mouths are all different.”
Studies actually show that using a mouthpiece toothbrush is about as effective as not brushing your teeth at all.
Talk to your dentist if you’re considering any of the oral health products or devices in this article.