By Dr. Lillie Pitman

Have you ever been thinking about wanting whiter teeth when suddenly your Facebook feed has a whitening ad or a lead on how charcoal toothpaste can brighten your smile? As a practicing periodontist and dental implant specialist, I learn of these new fads from my patients who come to me asking if there is any truth to these claims. I applaud them for asking a dental professional before trying out a new oral health protocol! Not everyone does, however.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest offer the ability to stay in touch with friends and family, find inspiration and connect with others around the world. They also offer a space for those without the proper credentials to spread messages that could be harmful to your or your childrens’ health. Instagram scroller be warned: If you aren’t careful, following the advice of non-dental professionals can result in serious damage to your teeth and gums.

Here are a few examples of social media myths my practice has addressed with our patients.

MYTH: Charcoal toothpaste will make your teeth whiter

The popularity of charcoal toothpaste and its promotion on social media appears to be tied to individuals wanting to whiten their teeth while brushing. Because of the bold claims often made on the packaging of charcoal toothpastes, you might be surprised to learn there is no scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of these toothpastes when it comes to whitening.

In fact, brushing regularly with charcoal toothpaste has been found to be abrasive to the teeth, meaning it can cause your teeth to be worn away faster than normal. If you’ve recently changed the toothpaste that you use and are experiencing tooth sensitivity or notice a change in your oral health, I encourage you to consult with your dentist.

MYTH: Fluoride-free toothpaste is a better, more natural option than toothpaste with fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that can be found in most water sources like lakes, oceans and rivers. It is important to brush with a toothpaste that contains fluoride because it is the ingredient that helps prevent tooth decay by making tooth enamel stronger.

Last year, a study in the dental journal, Gerodontology, found that without fluoride, oral hygiene efforts have no impact on cavity rates—if you’re brushing with a toothpaste that is fluoride-free you aren’t properly protecting your teeth.

MYTH: You can use DIY braces to save money and straighten your child’s teeth

Do-it-yourself braces can cause permanent, irreparable damage to a person’s teeth and nearly 13 percent of American Association of Orthodontists members have reported seeing patients who have tried this approach. Of all the oral health ideas being spread on social media, this one alarms me the most. As a periodontist, I have seen patients who came in with teeth that have to be removed because this DIY treatment was done in the presence of gum disease!

I understand that braces can be costly but using DIY braces in an effort to save money often leads to even more oral health related costs down the road. Fixing the damage caused by trying to realign your teeth without the help of a licensed dentist or orthodontist can come at a high price.

Parents should also be aware that children and teens who need braces can also have underlying oral conditions that could be exacerbated by DIY approaches. To identify these potential oral health concerns early, it is important to have a dental home—a dentist that your children see regularly—and consult with a board-certified orthodontist, if needed.

MYTH: Oil pulling is a good substitute for oral health habits such as brushing

Oil pulling is a practice that has been around for hundreds of years and while there is little to no risk of causing damage to your oral health, there is no scientific evidence that shows the practice reduces cavities, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being.

Brushing twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride remains the most effective way to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities. Also, flossing or a professionally-recommended approach for cleaning between the teeth is critical for preventing gum disease and cavities.

I recommend sticking to using olive oil and coconut oil in the kitchen, not in the bathroom alongside your toothbrush and mouthwash. If you have time to spend 10-20 minutes twice a day “pulling” oil, you may want to consider spending 3-5 minutes brushing and flossing, which is clinically proven to reduce cavities and gum disease!

I encourage all patients to talk to their dentist before trying something they see on social media. For more information and tips, visit the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy website at www.mouthhealthy.org.