The Good, Bad, and Unproven Dental Tools and Practices

From tried-and-tested brushing to newer trends like oil pulling and red light therapy, determining the best dental tools and practices among your many options can be a real head-scratcher. To simplify the selection process, researchers have conducted studies to identify the superior tools for preventing dental problems and managing America’s oral health crisis.

The scientific papers featured in this article aim to clarify which dental interventions work, which pose risks, and which lack conclusive evidence.

The Good: Best Dental Tools

Some tools and practices have decades worth of evidence backing their effectiveness. Frank Scannapieco, DMD, PhD, and his co-researchers have identified the following interventions for preventing gum disease and maintaining good oral health:

  • Manual toothbrush: You probably saw this coming from miles away – Regular brushing is the cornerstone of daily dental hygiene. Extensive research confirms that manual toothbrushing helps control dental plaque, a major factor in preventing gum disease.
  • Interdental brushes and water flossers: These tools, used alongside toothbrushing, can help reduce gum inflammation (gingivitis) better than other interdental hygiene methods. Water flossers are also excellent alternatives to toothpicking, as this habit can lead to gum damage, oral infections, and other dental issues.
  • Mouth rinses: Using mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine gluconate (CHX), cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), and essential oils like lemongrass, cinnamon, cedarwood, clove, and eucalyptus have demonstrated a reduction in plaque and gingivitis.

“Patients can be confident that the oral care tools and practices, as described in the paper, will prevent the initiation and progression of periodontal disease,” expressed Scannapieco.

“It is my hope that this piece consolidates the relevant evidence in a way that is comprehensive, readable, and helpful to all oral health professionals and patients,” added Eva Volman, DDS, first author.


The Bad: Dangers of Using Triclosan

Triclosan, an antifungal and antibacterial agent, was a common ingredient in many toothpastes and mouth rinses for its plaque- and gingivitis-fighting properties. However, triclosan has seen a downturn in acceptance due to associated risks. Though it was effective in reducing plaque and gum disease, it may cause other health problems, including cancer.

Research published in Science Translational Medicine revealed that short-time treatment with triclosan caused low-grade colonic inflammation, and increased disease development of colitis and colitis-related colon cancer in mice. 

Scannapieco’s paper also found connections between triclosan exposure and the development of certain cancers, as well as reproductive defects. As a result, many manufacturers across the United States have removed triclosan from dental products. But some brands continue to add it in their products. For example, as of April 2024, Colgate Total still contains 10 mM of triclosan.

Recognizing the suspected cancer risk associated with triclosan emphasizes the importance of choosing safer dental products, ensuring they effectively promote oral health but also safeguard overall well-being.


The Unproven: Electric Toothbrushes Are Not Always Better?

Not all tools and practices are backed by solid proof. Here, we discuss the alleged effectiveness of various tools that lack conclusive evidence. This lack of conclusive evidence is due to factors like small sample sizes, absence of negative control groups, lack of demographic data, and general lack of studies overall.

  • Electric-powered toothbrushes: Although popular, electric-powered toothbrushes are on par with manual toothbrushes in reducing plaque and gingivitis. They may offer convenience and additional features, such as timers and pressure sensors, but their efficacy remains comparable to traditional toothbrushes, according to Scannapieco and his team. For more information, read Toothbrush Wars: Team Manual vs. Team Electric.
  • Dental floss: Surprisingly, the overall effectiveness of dental floss in reducing plaque and gum disease lacks scientific support. However, this revelation does not suggest that people should stop flossing. While the evidence remains limited, many dental professionals — including the best dentists in Chandler, Arizona — still recommend flossing to remove bacteria-causing debris between teeth. Further reading: Flossing vs. Not Flossing.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics, often promoted for their potential to improve gut health, have also been explored for their oral health benefits. However, proof of their effectiveness in preventing gum disease or reducing plaque is inconclusive. Probiotics do offer other health benefits, but their specific impact on oral health remains uncertain.
  • Dietary supplements: Various dietary supplements claim to support oral health by fueling the body with essential vitamins and minerals. However, research on their effectiveness in preventing gum disease or improving overall oral health is limited. While maintaining a diet rich in micronutrients is undoubtedly beneficial for oral health, the specific role of dietary supplements remains uncertain.
  • Oil pulling: Oil pulling, a practice involving swishing coconut, olive, sesame, or sunflower oil in the mouth, needs more scientific proof to support its efficacy in maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Further in-depth scientific investigation is necessary to assure whether it can prevent tooth decay, preserve gum health, treat gingivitis, and improve overall oral health.
  • Red light therapy: Red light therapy, which involves exposure to low-level red light, has gained widespread attention for various health and wellness benefits, including potential applications in dental care. While some studies suggest positive outcomes such as reduced inflammation and improved wound healing, more rigorous research is necessary to validate these claims, specifically in the context of dental care. As of now, red light therapy’s role in oral hygiene remains uncertain.

Approach these tools with caution rather than outright dismissal. For instance, while electric toothbrushes may not outperform manual ones by leaps and bounds, they are still beneficial for individuals with dexterity issues or those who prefer their features. Likewise, while some researchers have questioned the effectiveness of dental floss, it remains essential for removing debris between teeth.

Ultimately, the absence of conclusive evidence does not immediately equate to ineffectiveness. Instead, it stresses the need for further research to better understand the role of certain tools in oral health maintenance.


Get Professional Oral Health Tips and Recommendations

Choose Dr. Shervin Rahimi for guidance and personalized tips on selecting the best dental tools for your needs. With Dr. Rahimi’s experience and commitment to evidence-based practices, you and your family will receive top-notch care tailored to your oral health goals.

Don’t settle for mediocre dental care — schedule an appointment with Dr. Rahimi today and take the first step toward a healthier, brighter smile.