Busting dental myths on social media

0
1241

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

dental myths on social media
Photo: antoniodiaz – 123RF

Spotting and stopping the worst social media-generated dental myths before they take hold is a job for everyone in dentistry. By John Burfitt

Remember the TikTok trend of just a few years ago, where a number of social media ‘influencers’ were offering their ‘advice’ on how to achieve a beautiful smile by simply filing your teeth with a nail file? 

Well, it seems that was just the warm-up. The misinformation brigade is still busy, offering tips on a range of dental procedures despite have zero qualifications.

For all the good the online information revolution has brought, social media is too often the place where the truth goes to die. Dentistry has been increasingly subjected to a wide range of online myths and mayhem on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Which is why Dr Mikaela Chinotti of the Australia Dental Association believes dentists need to be on the frontline in combating such misinformation.

“Some of these extreme myths about oral health have been around for years, but the rapid ease with which people can access these ideas, which are often wrong or potentially harmful, has changed and continues to be an issue,” Dr Chinotti, the ADA’s oral health promoter, says.

“A lot of dentists are probably already seeing these trends with patients coming in when something they’ve done has gone terribly wrong and they need help. But I believe dentists need to be asking questions of all patients about where they’re accessing information about oral health care and then correcting any myths as they’re presented.”

Dr Chinotti offers her take on six of the worst, most problematic dental trends on social media, and what needs to be done to address them.

Teeth filing

One of the most troubling TikTok trends is videos of people filing their own teeth to make them even, or encouraging followers to have their teeth filed into narrow pegs to prepare the teeth for crowns, or what they mistakenly believe will be veneers.

We explained using non-medical grade products best suited for use around the house or in the car is not something you should put into your mouth, and the possible adverse long-term effects.

Dr Mikaela Chinotti, oral health promoter, ADA

“They see their teeth look uneven and decide to do something about it with a nail file, with no idea of the risks or the consequences because they’ve seen something similar in online videos,” Dr Chinotti says. 

“There’s so little thought behind this, and so we need to explain to patients why something this delicate always needs a practitioner’s attention.”

Mind the gap

In a bid to avoid orthodontic work, one woman shared a TikTok video showing how she used tight elastic hair ties in a bid to close a gap between her front teeth. Days later, she showed a new video boasting of her instant results, which actually showed little difference.

“This procedure requires slow, sustained pressure to close a gap, not a band forcing intense movement on the teeth which can be so damaging,” Dr Chinotti says. “Instead of bluntly stating to patients this is a really bad idea, we need to detail the negative consequences of taking such action to make the point. Warning of teeth possibly being pulled out of gums would make an impact.”

Let’s go shopping 

“I saw someone boasting online they were making their own dentures using acrylics and materials from a hardware store,” Dr Chinotti says. “It reminded me of a patient years ago who had two teeth pulled out and returned a few weeks later to show off the denture he’d made using things he’d picked up from the hardware store. 

“We explained using non-medical grade products best suited for use around the house or in the car are not something you should put into your mouth, and the possible adverse long-term effects, but he kept wearing it. The problems were only a matter of time away.”

Brighter with bleach

A recent TikTok series of videos showed hacks for teeth whitening, using cleaning items like hydrogen peroxide and other cleaning chemicals. Not only are such trends highly toxic, but they can result in severe damage to both teeth and gums.

“At most, those kits purchased online or from supermarkets should only be using six per cent hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening, but some people seem to use whatever they can find,” Dr Chinotti says.

Some of these extreme myths about oral health have been around for years, but the rapid ease with which people can access these ideas, which are often wrong or potentially harmful, has changed and continues to be an issue.

Dr Mikaela Chinotti, oral health promoter, ADA

The confusion, she adds, may be because dentists talk about using bleach for whitening in the clinic. “Some people relate that to what they have under the kitchen sink and think it’s all the same, and that’s so dangerous. This might be when you need to explain to patients the there’s actually a big difference.”

Oils ain’t oils

A Clove oild has long been a trusted aid to assist with the pain of toothache, and is also a natural anaesthetic, but not all essential oils and natural therapies are created equal, insists Dr Chinotti.

“People sometimes try out other essential oils that are not suitable for direct applications and end up burning the gum and tongue,” she says. By way of example, she tells of a patient who used manuka honey to treat a dry socket.

“Manuka is anti-inflammatory, but it was not right for this treatment and as we cleaned the honey out of the socket, we were also explaining the importance of coming in early next time, rather than trying out treatments that may or may not work. This one didn’t.”

Do-it-yourself toothpaste

While people have been making their own homemade toothpaste for centuries, those recipes don’t necessarily incorporate fluoride and some have been proven to damage tooth enamel.

“This one is harder to deal with as some patients have been doing this for years, so we need to explain the ingredients aren’t going to offer any anti-cavity protection,” she says.

One issue that’s emerged in recent years is the popularity of fluoride-free toothpaste. “This one is concerning as a lot of the messaging uses the term ‘non-toxic’ which creates the impression that regular toothpastes are toxic, which is not true.”

Dr Chinotti tells of two recent interactions with patients which revealed the extent of the issue. “One patient said her naturopath advised her that using fluoride-free toothpaste would help improve her thyroid condition, which it didn’t. Another patient made the switch to fluoride-free toothpaste, and then was upset at her next appointment when she had her first ever cavity. I had discussions with both about the consequences of their actions. Eventually, the truth sunk in, and sank some of the myths in the process.”  

Previous articleDental assistants in short supply
Next articleWelcome to modern dentistry

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here