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Brace yourself: The tooth in dental trends

A recent uprise in dental trends like oil pulling and tooth gems raise topics of concern and education within the dental community.
The University of Minnesota adult dentistry clinic at the Riverside Professional Building on Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017.
Image by Ellen Schmidt
The University of Minnesota adult dentistry clinic at the Riverside Professional Building on Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017.

University of Minnesota faculty at the School of Dentistry use motivational interviewing to create better dental habits and debunk popular dental trends. 

In dentistry, many new approaches such as motivational interviewing and dental hygiene coaching were implemented as tools to better serve patient care. Current trends, such as teeth whitening, tooth gems and oil pulling, might not provide the long-term benefits people seek.

Michelle Arnett, an assistant professor in the University’s School of Dentistry, researches the benefits of motivational interviewing in oral healthcare settings.

Motivational interviewing is a patented, centered, collaborative counseling approach, Arnett said. The conversation between dental hygienists and patients discusses routine brushing and flossing but also includes how mental health and lifestyle behaviors contribute to dental hygiene.

Arnett conducted a clinical trial comparing brief motivational interviewing to traditional oral care instructions, which was featured in the Journal of Dental Hygiene’s special edition celebrating 100 years of dentistry.    

Mental health was talked about 48 more times using motivational interviewing over traditional oral hygiene instruction, which talked about mental health 26 times over the one-year clinical trial.

“A hygienist can stress and advocate to brush and floss all day, but if there are mental health issues, depression, or some underlying condition going on, you really need to discuss that,” Arnett said. 

Megan O’Connell, a dental hygiene coach at Dental Consulting Company and alumnus of the University, goes to dental offices to observe the hygienists who work there. Based on their patient care approach, O’Connell coaches hygienists on services that  make their patients healthier.

“It’s kind of your responsibility as a dental health professional to keep up to date on current techniques, technologies, and sometimes after you’ve been practicing for 20-25 years, you kind of just get into this process of just you know, I go to work I see patients and then I’m done,” O’Connell said. 

Dental hygiene coaching is important because it allows for training to get catered specifically to an office’s patient demographic, O’Connell added. Offices that have patients with lower socioeconomic statuses require a different level of care than west suburban with better access to healthcare. 

Hooi Pin Chew, an associate professor in the University’s School of Dentistry, said she wanted a career in medicine and found she preferred dentistry because it dealt with the quality of life instead of death. 

“We see the improvement in quality of life through patients with dentures, with better aesthetics, better smile, better function and better eating ability, ” Chew said. “These outcomes contribute significantly to their overall health and confidence.”

Oil pulling 

Oil pulling involves swishing around an oil product made from coconut, sesame or sunflower seeds, and spitting it out, Arnett said. The goal is to break up the bacteria in your mouth so it will become more alkaline-based and less acidic, preventing enamel erosion. 

There is no evidence that oil pulling has any benefits, but there is also no evidence that it is harmful, Arnett added. 

“A lot of my research is in patient behaviors and motivational interviewing and getting someone to pick up a toothbrush and brush for 30 seconds is challenging,” Arnett said. “To motivate someone to put an oil substance in their mouth to swish for up to 30 minutes a day, compliance is probably going to be very low.”

It is difficult to determine if oil pulling is contributing to good dental health or if it is just good genetics, O’Connell from Dental Consulting Company added. 

“I have personally had patients that have had a lot of success from pulling, but I can’t associate it with being the oil itself,” O’Connell said. 

Tooth gems 

If the tooth around the tooth gem is kept clean and the tooth does not have a cavity, there should not be any detrimental impacts, Chew said. 

The person putting on tooth gems is usually not a dental professional, it is someone with no experience in dentistry applying them, O’Connell said. The glue that the gems are adhered with can spread and connect teeth making it harder to floss, and it can go under the gums and cause dental infection. 

If the gem is not properly removed it can damage the health and appearance of a tooth, O’Connell said. 

“In terms of dental trends, tooth gems worry me the most in regards to the long-term harms that can be done,” O’Connell said. 


Whitening has been heavily researched, and people should not use whitening products that do not contain FDA-approved materials, Chew said. 

Whitening kits can cause sensitivity for individuals when they stop using the product, Arnett said. If someone is using over-the-counter whitening strips and they get it on their gum tissue, it could cause a chemical burn. 

Before using a whitening product it is important for people to know if they are cavity and gum disease-free, Arnett said. 

The best option is to go to the dentist and get a professionally made whitening tray that works for the individual’s tooth structure, O’Connell said. 

“We see much of this misinformation during the first two years of COVID-19,” Chew said. “I think the communication about medical and dental science impacts the understanding and maintenance of health and wellness and there should be a more systematic or concerted way to effectively communicate evidence-based research.”

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