Oral hygiene trends usually tend to come and go, but these lot have lingered on. Are you guilty of any of the cardinal sins of oral hygiene? Read on to find out!
Illustration by Jessica Olah
Fluoride has garnered a terrible reputation, with the popularity of non-fluoride toothpaste on the rise in light of the water fluoridation controversy. In short, the anti-fluoride controversy is a long-standing conspiracy theory, with the most popular beliefs being that water fluoridation is hazardous to health, an attack on individual liberty and—our personal favourite—a ploy by the government to effect mind control and make us hare-brained and docile.
Essentially, fluoride has been vilified by the community of pseudo-medical experts—that is, groups of people with no bearing on actual medicine but who have a lot of opinions. The truth is, fluoride was initially added into the water systems as there was evidence that it protected against tooth decay by fortifying tooth enamel. Further, toothpastes have long been formulated with fluoride for the same reason. In fact, it is more effective applied topically than through drinking water.
The only issue arises with too much fluoride, especially at young ages. Dental fluorosis arises from excessive fluoride but is a purely cosmetic issue—it causes permanent streaks and spots to form on the teeth’s surface. Skeletal fluorosis is a rare condition that also arises as a result of too much fluoride, causing brittle bones and pain, but you’d need to ingest an obscene amount of fluoridated water or toothpaste for it to happen.
Summed up perfectly in this article, “even though fluoride can be toxic in extremely high concentrations, its topical use is safe”. Basically, fluoride is fine.
Going overboard with charcoal toothpaste…
The peak of the activated charcoal craze has come and gone, but the days of charcoal toothpaste are far from over. Influencers like Kendall Jenner hawk out endorsements for charcoal teeth whitening brands on Instagram but you shouldn’t be so quick to hop on the bandwagon.
Firstly, as stated by the American Dental Association, charcoal toothpaste can be much too abrasive for everyday use. Daily use could lead to the wearing down of your tooth enamel, causing tooth sensitivity and potentially yellower teeth if the yellow layer of dentin under the enamel and cementum is exposed.
On that note, the black charcoal particles could make your discoloured teeth situation worse; the particles can get caught in between the gums and lead to discolouration and irritation. Further, if you have fillings, charcoal toothpaste could get lodged in them and will be extremely difficult to get out.
Finally, there’s no evidence that charcoal toothpaste is more effective than any other whitening toothpaste, or rather effective at all. An article published in the Journal of the American Dental Association concluded that many of the claims of charcoal dental products are unsubstantiated and badly-designed.
… and whitening toothpaste
Riding on the coattails of charcoal toothpaste, whitening toothpaste is also an abrasive. Like charcoal toothpaste, it only works to remove superficial staining and if you use it too frequently, it will only work to wear away enamel quicker (and potentially make your teeth even yellower).
Taking oil pulling seriously
Oil pulling is the practise of swirling coconut oil (or sesame seed oil or sunflower oil) around the mouth on an empty stomach, pulling the oil through the teeth and mouth for five to 20 minutes then spitting it out.
Its roots lie in ancient Ayurvedic dental practise and promises to “clear the body of toxins”, whiten teeth, improve breath and generally improve health. Some go as far to say that it’s an adequate replacement for proper tooth brushing and flossing, in their own experience.
This all sounds very well and good but here’s a kicker: there is absolutely no scientific basis behind the practise. How-to guides state that if you feel the oil’s volume double in your mouth, you know that it has “pulled the toxins” out of your body. Newsflash: it’s not the oil absorbing all your toxins—it’s your mouth producing saliva because you’re swirling oil around your mouth and your salivary glands are going nuts.
If you do nothing but oil pull to clean your teeth, you’re going to lose all of your teeth and there will be no sympathy for you. If you’re doing it for the claims on additional health benefits like reduced ace and headaches and cancer prevention/treatment, rest assured a balanced diet and regular exercise will do far more for you.
Everyone’s favourite DIY duo: strawberry and baking soda
This DIY-whitening-favourite does not work. Strawberries are thought to whiten the teeth because they contain malic acid, but realistically the acid is nowhere near strong enough to produce any significant results and it actually causes your teeth to weaken instead. Plus, the sugar in the strawberries may rot your teeth before you see any results. A better option would be to make a tooth-whitening appointment with your regular dentist. Besides, baking soda is an abrasive and will only contribute to wearing away your enamel.
Binging on lemon/lime water (sparkling or still)
Lemon water—it’s a social signal that you have your life together. It’s a subtle way to broadcast how healthy you are—you know, just Delores on her third lemon water cleanse after her triweekly pilates. Fancy restaurants precariously place a single wedge in your drink to give you the full dining experience. It is a force that cannot be stopped, despite the rise in cases of eroded tooth enamel and stomach pains among the demographic that favours it.
So, it’s our regret to inform you that you should probably go a little easier on it. Lemon and lime are high in citric acid, and having too much of them in water can have some really detrimental effects on your chompers. In addition, on a gastroenterological level, the acidity can trigger stomach pain and gastroesophageal reflux disorder which leads to heartburn, nausea and vomiting. We’re not saying that you should purge it entirely—drink in moderation to really experience its own benefits, but give it a rest once in a while.
Really amping up on the bristle hardness
One more final thing to consider is the kind of toothbrush you’re using. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most important factor is bristle hardness. Ideally, you want a toothbrush with softer bristles as it is less abrasive on your teeth as well as pliable enough to get into the nooks and crannies of your teeth.
That said, we are advocates of keeping up with doctor-approved oral hygiene habits such as regular brushing and flossing—so long as there is substianted scientific evidence to back your habits up instead of the possibility of causing more damage than good to your pearly uppers and lowers.
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