As a dentist, a big part of your job is overcoming the damage that non-dentists can do. Social media and online spaces are a double-edged sword. While they're great for sharing stories and connecting people, they're also rife with misinformation, especially regarding health. Every now and then, a new trend will catch on, whether it's homemade whitening methods or strange toothpaste alternatives. Some of these can be dangerous for your patient's long-term oral care. Here's how to explain the benefits of toothpaste to your patients and keep them away from dangerous trends.

Online trends can be dangerous for your patient's long-term oral care
Online trends can be dangerous for your patient's long-term oral care.

How Toothpaste Trends Evolve (and Bring Dental Problems)

Toothpaste has a long, storied history. Both ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations used it. However, the ingredients in theirs were far more abrasive — including things like rock salt, eggshells, and even ground-up ox hooves. One old-school ingredient we've seen re-emerge in recent years is activated charcoal. In ancient civilizations, its abrasive properties made it a great tool for removing surface stains and whitening teeth — when it was all that was available.

But there are better options now. Activated charcoal is harsh. It can wear down the enamel, exposing the dentin underneath. In addition, unless there's fluoride added, it does not provide any ongoing strength or protection. As the patient wears down their teeth, they also make them less resilient to decay.

Charcoal is only the most recent addition to the range of strange and often harmful things individuals have used to brush their teeth.

Here are a few other dangerous trends that we've seen before and will probably see again:

  • Hydrogen peroxide: A dangerous trend involved beauty influencers using undiluted, high-concentration peroxide on their teeth, risking chemical burns and enamel loss. Many assume it is safe to do this because it's a common ingredient in toothpaste, but in a low concentration, with other components designed to stabilize the formula and protect the gums.

  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice is another common tooth whitening "home remedy" that can erode the enamel, cause tooth sensitivity, and put patients at risk of decay. In fact, in one study, undiluted lemon juice was shown to be far more damaging to teeth than even the most sugary or highly acidic soft drinks.

  • Baking soda: Baking soda is another toothpaste additive that's fine when used correctly. Unfortunately, most trend followers use baking soda as a base in a paste they make with one of the above harmful ingredients. As baking soda is corrosive, it only compounds the problem when it's mixed with something damaging.

  • Household cleaners: While Listerine may have once been marketed as floor cleaner, that was a long time and many formulations ago. That doesn't stop people from occasionally trying to repurpose other common household cleaners into an oral healthcare solution. In 2020, we saw a dangerous TikTok trend of teens trying to get whiter smiles with bleach. In 2021, another viral video showed users testing Mr. Clean Magic Erasers on their teeth!

These dangerous toothpaste trends can cause long-term damage to your patients. That's why it's essential to reiterate the benefits of toothpaste and provide guidance on the suitable options for them.

How to Explain the Benefits of Toothpaste to Patients

While standard, dentist-approved toothpaste may not be exciting, it's the best thing for patients' dental health. However, to explain the benefits of toothpaste to your patients without talking down to them, it's essential to understand why they've chosen to follow trends or cut corners. Typically, that breaks down to the short-term benefits they see, a desire to save money, or a little bit of both.

Explaining the consequences of short-term gains.

Teens are particularly vulnerable to chasing the short-term benefits of these dangerous trends. They watch a video of someone they admire brushing with baking soda and lemon juice and showing off their snow-white (usually filtered) teeth shortly after. They decide to give it a try themselves and see some results, so they do it again. The enamel gradually diminishes with each repetition, causing their teeth to lose luster. This cycle often continues until they finally recognize the problem, but irreversible damage to their teeth has often already occurred.

For these patients, it's important to be proactive. Discuss the benefits of toothpaste and its long-term protection and explain how its formulations are far safer (and more effective) for whitening teeth.

It may also help to discuss the additional whitening benefits of electric toothbrushes that offer superior cleaning abilities. Keep a few models on hand and some toothpaste brands to recommend so you can keep your patient's smiles beautiful for the long term.

Showing thrifty patients the long-term cost benefits.

For some thrifty patients, the idea that they can cobble together their own toothpaste recipe for pennies may seem too good to pass up. Others may have financial problems that make even basic necessities out of reach. For these patients, it's essential to explain the long-term impact of cutting corners now.

The lack of fluoride and damaging properties in these concoctions could lead to painful, expensive, and health-damaging tooth decay. Encourage them to take free samples and direct them to programs like "Giving the Basics," where they can receive free hygiene items.

Protect patients' smiles and help them avoid dangerous dental trends by reviewing the benefits of regular toothpaste
Protect patients' smiles and help them avoid dangerous dental trends by reviewing the benefits of regular toothpaste.

As a dental professional, you're very familiar with the tried-and-true benefits of toothpaste, but your patients may not be. That's especially true when they see people online touting "natural" solutions from easy-to-find but harmful products. By reviewing how regular toothpaste benefits your patients, you can help them protect their smiles and avoid dangerous dental trends.


Commenter's Profile Image Olga L.
May 27th, 2024
Thank you for keeping us updated on trending topics. I have heard and seen this situations on younger patients.