Brushing Up on Dental Products


Six-hundred years ago, the Emperor of China embedded hog bristles in a bone handle and used his invention to clean his teeth. One drawback? Hog bristles were expensive and the whole family had to use the same toothbrush. Boy, have times changed.

Now the average supermarket shelf has endless choices — from an array of brushes (manual, electric, large, small, those with contorted handles), to special flosses, electric flossers, mouthwashes, dentifrices (toothpaste to you), and every squirter, whitening tray, mouthguard, and weird appliance imaginable. It looks like a road company of The Marathon Man in there!

So what’s hip and what’s hype?

mouth is different,” Harms says. “For some, a sensitive toothpaste can help prevent gum disease. However, he does admit that mouthwashes containing essential oils, can slow the formation of plaque — those amazingly successful, tight-knit globs of cooperating bacteria that can coat teeth and cause decay.

“Every little bit helps,” Douglass says. “Rinsing with an essential oil mouthwash or even with plain water after brushing and flossing can cut plaque a little, although rinsing is no substitute for brushing and flossing.”

Reminds Harms: “Every 24 hours a new crop of germs emerges.” She also cautions that you must rinse the amount of time stated on the label. One last piece of advice. Don’t overuse mouthwash. The American Academy of Periodontology says overuse can produce “sloughy, stinky tissue that is worse than what your breath is already like.”

Miscellaneous Products

Dentists often prescribe mouth guards to stabilize jaws in people who grind their teeth at night. Generic guards are available at the drugstore and prescribed ones can cost hundreds of dollars. “I wouldn’t treat this on your own,” Harms says. “It is amazing the force your jaw can exert on your teeth. The specially measured guards can prevent other problems from arising by keeping teeth evenly apart.”

Irrigators, Douglass says, can also be useful for people with special needs, such as bridges, braces, or extensive gum problems such as deep pockets. “Your dental hygienist can tell you if this is a good investment,” he says.

Speaking of investments, how could we best spend our dental dollar? “Prevention, prevention, prevention,” chants Harms. Brush, floss, and see the dentist, he says.

All the rest is optional, although work is on-going to fine-tune electric toothbrushes and automatic flossers to make them easier to manipulate. Eventually, Harms says, scientists will discover a way to break up plaque and make all these gizmos work better.

“The problem is,” Douglass says, “we all have only a certain amount of time to spend on our teeth. If you have six devices sitting there, you may use all six, but you will still take only five minutes of time.”

At least you’re not in ancient China with someone waiting in line to use the toothbrush!