Alternative Preventive Treatments

From time to time, I have patients ask me about uncommon products they have obtained usually from health food outlets that claim to prevent tooth decay.  They are usually asking whether these products work.  There is quite a body of accumulated knowledge regarding preventive agents in dentistry.  There are primarily two diseases we are trying to prevent with home care in the dental field.  They are tooth decay (cavities) and periodontal disease (disease of the gums and bone).  Over the past 70 years or so, there has been quite a bit of progress in the prevention of these two diseases.  

     A few years ago, I happened to have the ear of a noted scientific researcher in the preventive dentistry area and asked her why there seemed to be no real breakthroughs in the field of preventive dentistry since the 1950’s.  She asked, “Do the tried and true methods work?”  I replied, “Yes”.  Then she asked me why someone would want something else when the existing methods work?  I think the reason we still want other methods is convenience, and the quest for new and easier methods continues.  You might be asking what the tried and true methods of preventive dentistry are.  This is simple, they are:  1) Thorough brushing of the teeth twice per day, 2) Thorough flossing at least once per day and preferably twice, 3) Use of fluoride toothpaste every time you brush or a stronger fluoride preparation for some people, and 4) Professional cleaning at the interval suggested by your dentist or hygienist.  Most young people need two cleanings per year, but as we get older, more roots are often showing and salivary flow often reduces.  These conditions and other things commonly require more frequent professional cleanings.  Your dentist or hygienist can advise you what cleaning interval is most suited to your individual case.  So there they are, four simple items.  These four items for prevention of tooth decay and periodontal disease are proven by literally hundreds of carefully completed scientific studies in countries around the world spanning the last seven decades.  Using these four items diligently and consistently, nearly all tooth decay is preventable.    

     Still some people would like to discard the proven science of the last seven decades and go down a path that is different than the four items listed above.  Science is a changing story.  There are new twists that add or subtract from the acquired body of scientific evidence on an ongoing basis.  Your dentist has been trained to evaluate what are reported as breakthroughs in science and weigh the evidence and what it all means.  This is called critical thinking.  Someone who is thinking critically asks questions like:  Who did the scientific project? Did the person who completed the project have some financial interest in its outcome?  Was the research repeated by someone not connected with the original project?  Was the project done in a laboratory or out in the real world (the field) somewhere?  How many samples were involved in the project?  Did the same person who did the project also compile its results?  This is critical thinking.  Critical thinking is not when a patient rejects seven decades of research and buys a bottle of some liquid at a so called health food outlet and blindly trusts that its manufacturer somehow knows better than the combined knowledge of science on the subject.  There is a way that scientific advances enter legitimately into the dental (and broader scientific) mainstream.  That method is from the laboratory, into the peer reviewed scientific literature, to the companies who produce the product, to the government regulators, and finally to the public.  A product that enters the market without the scientific review process or government regulators involved is untried and there is no logical reason to have more than blind hope that it will be effective.  When a person trusts his health to nothing more than blind hope even though there is clear scientific evidence on the subject that the person chooses to reject, the dentist and the entire dental community have been held out of the loop by the patient.  Ask your dentist if you have questions regarding prevention methods and products. 


This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)