Good oral hygiene is essential to maintaining your oral health. And since oral health is a foundation of your overall health, keeping your mouth clean can make a big difference in staying healthy and living a long life. 

But are all the things we recommend for oral hygiene scientifically proven to prevent gum disease? This is a complex question, and, it turns out, not all the standard recommendations have a good scientific basis. That’s the finding of a recent review conducted by researchers at the University of Buffalo. This study, published in the Journal of the International Academy of Periodontology shows that some parts of your oral hygiene routine have a strong scientific foundation, while others need more research.

The Good Oral Hygiene Tools

woman brushing her teeth in front of mirror in bathroomWhen it comes to oral hygiene, there are several practices that have solid scientific support. These are:

  • Tooth brushing
  • Interdental brush
  • Water pick
  • Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHX) based mouth rinse
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) based mouth rinse
  • Essential oil mouth rinses
  • Toothpicks

Research shows that your daily tooth brushing habit is one of the most effective ways to control oral bacteria. So you should keep doing it. Other tools that were shown to be effective at reducing plaque were interdental brushes and water picks. Because these have been shown to reduce gingivitis and more serious forms of gum disease, they are recommended as supplements to tooth brushing.

Research also showed that three different types of mouthwash were effective at reducing gingivitis. CHX is a common ingredient in prescription mouthwash given to help control gum disease. CHX-based mouthwashes have side effects that mean it will probably remain a prescription-only ingredient. Plus, CHX-based mouthwashes can stain teeth. Not only does CHX have a bad taste, it can alter your sense of taste. CHX-based mouthwash can increase the formation of tartar.

CPC has the advantage of being available over the counter, and it has few side effects. Over-the-counter mouthwashes made with essential oils are also effective. These rely on oils like menthol and eucalyptol to kill oral bacteria. The most recognizable brand is Listerine, but generic equivalents work well, too.

Finally, toothpicks weren’t shown to promote healthy gums. However, they can still be useful because gently prodding gums with a toothpick could indicate gum health. Unhealthy gums will be painful and start to bleed, while healthy gums will not.

The Bad Oral Hygiene Tool

Researchers only found one oral hygiene tool that they decided was “bad”: triclosan. Triclosan is an antibiotic that can be effective at killing oral bacteria.  This is why triclosan was briefly added to a number of toothpastes and mouthwashes.

However, research also shows that triclosan is linked to many types of cancer and reproductive defects. This is why, it’s been removed from most oral care products. It’s just not worth the risk, although it hasn’t been explicitly banned. So, if you do encounter a toothpaste that contains triclosan, skip it.

The Unproven Oral Hygiene Tools

In trying to find support for oral hygiene techniques, researchers found that many common approaches lacked sufficient evidence to recommend them. These include:

  • Dental floss
  • Electric toothbrushes
  • Stannous fluoride
  • Probiotics
  • Dietary supplements
  • Most mouth rinses

The big one here is dental floss. However, there are a few reasons why floss hasn’t proven itself in clinical studies.

First, dental floss is not a high-ticket item. As a result, fewer studies are done about dental floss than about techniques like water picks. Several manufacturers have a vested interest in proving the value of water picks, so they fund the studies. The other reason why floss might not shine in clinical studies is that many people don’t do it right. Finally, many people lie about flossing to their dentist, and, possibly, to researchers. If people in studies are saying they floss, but they aren’t flossing , it could make it seem as if flossing isn’t effective.

However, if you’re good at flossing, keep it up. If not, try a different technique like a water pick or interdental flosser.

The same is true of electric toothbrushes. Some people really benefit from electric toothbrushes. The rotary motion and timer function helps people brush their teeth long enough and well enough to get them clean. However, they don’t do anything a regular toothbrush can’t do in the hands of a skilled tooth brusher.

Stannous fluoride does not yet have enough research to support its use, although it isn’t associated with any known risks.

Probiotics and dietary supplements are often marketed to help prevent gum disease, but they don’t yet have evidence that supports their use.

Researchers also found that most mouthwashes aren’t proven to be effective. If it’s based on ingredients other than the three above it has insufficient evidence of effectiveness.

Maintain Healthy Teeth and Gums in Butler

Having difficulty maintaining good oral health? One proven way to keep your teeth healthy is with regular professional dental cleanings and check-ups. At Advanced Dentistry of Butler, Dr. Bob Fornalczyk and his team can help you avoid gum disease and its related health risks.

Please call (724) 282-4436 or use our online form to schedule an appointment at our office in Butler, PA.