In 1972, about the only thing one could purchase for do-it-yourself dentistry was boil and bite sports guards and Red Cross Toothache medicine, which consisted of oil of cloves.

In that same time period, it was not uncommon for patients to tell me they pulled their own teeth via a pair of channel locks and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Do-it-yourself dentistry has been around for thousands of years, but now with the internet and major drug stores on every corner, DIY dentistry is reaching a new level. The purpose of this column is to educate the reader on the positive and negative aspects of several DIY dental products.

Teeth-whitening products

Manufacturers have actually done a great job with the home bleaching kits. Stay with name brands: Crest or Colgate. Not only are they effective, they are an inexpensive product. Follow directions on the box and the results will follow – if and only if your teeth are the kind that will whiten.

The difference between professional and over-the-counter bleaching products is the percentage of the bleaching material: carbamide peroxide. The higher the percentage, the quicker the whitening. The negative of the higher percentage is the potential sensitivity of the teeth.

Sport’s guards

Most people playing sports have the mouth slightly open and teeth apart. Getting a head butt to the chin slams the lower jaw into the upper with a force strong enough to break teeth and even knock them out of their socket. The boil and bite guard is soft and spongy, and absorbs the blow. Sports guards are easy to make, economical, and they work well to protect teeth during sports.

For those who grit and grind their teeth, it makes common sense that boil and bites could be an economical night guard. A night guard, or splint, is a hard piece of plastic made by dentists. Their purpose is to keep the teeth apart for those who grind their teeth at night. They are precisely made mimicking a better bite, therefore decreasing the urge to grit and grind. But primarily, they are meant to keep from teeth destroying teeth.

The brain perceives a huge difference in soft versus hard plastic mouth pieces. The soft boil and bite tends to create the need to clench and grind more. Even though the teeth don’t touch, the muscles go into overdrive at night. This increase clinching and gritting on the soft plastic can damage the jaw joint and severely irritate the chewing muscles.

Snore guards

Snore guards are usually upper and lower plastic guards that fit over the teeth and pull the jaw forward and keep it forward during the night. When the jaw goes forward, the tongue follows keeping it from falling back into the throat as one sleeps.

Snoring and sleep apnea almost always occur together. Only a sleep doctor can diagnose sleep apnea, which is a very serious medical condition; one that slowly kills. If a snore guard helps with the snoring, the patient and bed partner may get the false impression that everything is alright, which allows the apnea to slowly and silently do its damage to the body. A false sense of security can be a dangerous thing in dealing with sleep apnea.

Aligners to straighten teeth

One can now walk into certain drug stores and have digital impressions done on upper and lower teeth. The scans are sent to a lab where a technician and computer build a series of aligners that actually move teeth.

For some, this may work and things will be OK. For others, it can create a lifetime of pain and misery. Moving teeth and bone is an extremely complicated art and science. If one decides upon this route and something goes wrong, you are out of luck as to who is responsible.

Bottom line to DIY dentistry

Everyone wants to save money and few enjoy going to the dentist much less pay a ton of money. But as in everything else, you get what you pay for. The DIY dentistry cost is so low, it is easy to be of the opinion that if it doesn’t work it can be merely thrown away. Makes sense until one thinks of the possible downsides.

The real danger in DIY dentistry is there is no professional supervision, no documentation, no adjustments when needed, and more importantly, no one but you to be responsible if there is a negative outcome. It’s like taking your spouse’s blood pressure medicine with no doctor to do follow up. Taking vitamins only makes sense if you have had a blood test and are instructed by a doctor as to which ones, how much to take and have follow ups. My doctor is a genius at this with great outcomes to me.

Most important of all is that everyone needs to have a dentist who they can trust to guide them in having a perfectly healthy mouth.

About the author: Dr. Mac Lee practices in Edna. He is an international speaker and trainer to dentists. He is dedicated to educate the public about dental disease.