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You’re pulling my oil: 3 reasons to skip oil pulling

Coconut oil for alternative therapy If you spend any time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen articles on oil pulling. The “ancient” practice involves swishing coconut or sesame oil in your mouth and through your teeth to increase your oral health. Not only is it claimed to be better than conventional oral hygiene, but many also claim numerous other benefits.

“…oil pulling is usually recommended for treating mouth-based conditions such as halitosis, gingivitis or oral plaque, it actually benefits the entire body. Long-term oil pulling has, for instance, also been linked to healthier hair, clearer skin, whiter teeth, elimination of parasites, improved body odor and the easing of joint pains. It is, in short, a full-body cleanse, and anyone with $5 to spare on good-quality oil can reap its benefits.”

So, should you use this technique for better health? Here are three reasons you should skip oil pulling.

  • It doesn’t do what they claim it does: One of my pet peeves is when alternative medicine proponents claim that a certain treatment can detoxify the body. If a treatment is meant to remove toxins, I think it’s important to specify what toxins are being removed. This is where much alternative medicine loses credibility. They convince otherwise healthy people that the environment around them is slowly poisoning them with toxins, but they don’t specify what toxins. In most cases, they don’t even use the term toxin correctly. A toxin is “…is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms;[1][2] synthetic substances created by artificial processes are thus excluded.” Simply stated, a toxin is a biologically produced poison. Sometimes they’ll mention “heavy metals” or “chemicals.” Typically they insinuate that modern industry and technology is to blame for these toxins in our environment, but rarely do they get more specific than that. Motor oilBut let’s be honest, if you really needed toxins removed from your body wouldn’t you want to know exactly what toxins you have, how they got there and how a doctor is going to get them out? Rinsing your mouth with oil doesn’t remove toxins. At the most, the swishing action might mechanically remove some dental plaque. There is  some research that is suggestive that oil pulling can  have an effect on bad breath and  bacteria that cause tooth decay. However, the research is done on extremely small sample sizes with questionable experimental design. If there is an effect, it is likely from the mechanical effect of swishing the oil. Other liquids would likely have a similar effect. If coconut oil or sesame oil are good, wouldn’t a nice 5w30 motor oil be even better?
  • If it did work, it takes too long: Almost all of the proponents of oil pulling suggest 20 minutes of swishing oil around the mouth is required for the benefit. They’re actually quite specific about the 20 minutes…no more or no less. I don’t know about you, but 20 minutes is a long time to add to my normal routine. Brushing shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes. If you’re going to floss, there’s another two. If you choose to pass on oil pulling, I just saved you 16 minutes per day! And proper brushing and flossing is clearly more effective at cleaning your teeth and gums than swishing oil around. It’s true that I don’t make any claims of detoxifying your body with regular brushing and flossing, but oil pulling doesn’t really do that anyhow. No harm, no foul.
  • It isn’t risk free: Maybe you still aren’t convinced. You’re thinking, “sure, brushing and flossing is better and I might not be detoxifying my body, but what harm can it do?” There’s this thing called lipoid pneumonia. It’s a special kind of pneumonia that only occurs when someone inhales small amounts of aerosolized oil. Kind of like when you’re swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes at a time. Am I saying that oil pulling will give you lipoid pneumonia? Yes. Yes I am. O.K., I’m not really. I’m just saying that there is a risk of side effects that many alternative medicine proponents fail to mention.

Oil pulling is just the latest in a long line of natural cures being offered by proponents of alternative medicine. Medicine and dentistry can be scary. Searching the internet for information about health makes sense. However, the internet has no filters for information. In many cases, bad and incorrect information is easier to find than accurate information about health. Remember what Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, once said:

“We are still in the very beginnings of the internet. Let’s use it wisely.”

Critical thinking techniques are vital to finding health information on the internet. The best bet is to have a relationship to a trusted dentist and physician. Ask them questions! Answering your health concerns is what they should do best!

Did you find this post oily? Perhaps a bit swishy? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a Saginaw dentist, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at I always answer my own emails!

The future of dental insurance?

Delta Dental of Michigan just began offering a new kind of dental insurance to its employees. The insurance plan is being sold as “personalized care.” What a great service! They care about you as an individual! They actually test your genetic code to determine the best treatment for you, right? Well…sort of. Here’s a short version of how it works.

How the new "personalized dental insurance" plan works

How the new “personalized dental insurance” plan works

Adults will be given a baseline level of preventive coverage. This baseline includes one “cleaning” and two exams covered by insurance per year. Additional “cleanings” will be covered (a maximum of four) if you have one or more risk factors. The new program includes the following risk factors:

  • diabetes
  • history of heart attack/stroke
  • renal failure/dialysis
  • suppressed immune system
  • history of radiation of the head and neck due to cancer
  • pregnancy
  • a history of a periodontal disease/past periodontal disease treatment

Furthermore, a subscriber to this insurance policy may choose to have a genetic test done for the “periodontal disease gene.” If they test positive for this gene, they may qualify for more “cleanings.”

You may be wondering why I’m putting quotes around the word cleaning in the previous paragraphs. It’s because I kind of hate the term “cleaning.” It means different things depending on the patient’s gum (periodontal) health. So let me clarify. If you’re a healthy adult patient with no periodontal disease, you’ll most likely get a dental prophylaxis. This consists of a hygienist or dentist removing plaque and tartar that his harder to reach by regular home care as well as the crowns of your teeth polished. That’s the smooth and minty feeling you get after they finish up. If you have periodontal disease, which is to say that you’ve lost some supporting bone around your teeth, your cleaning is actually considered periodontal maintenance. This assumes you’ve had periodontal therapy (deep cleanings, aka: scaling and root planing). This is a much more in depth removal of tartar which may include local anesthesia and localized deep cleanings on the roots of the teeth. However, both of these things are (erroneously) being referred to as a cleaning, even though there are very specific insurance codes for each type.

At first glance, this really does seem like dental insurance  providing true personalized care. Delta Dental of Michigan designed the plan based on some recent research from the University of Michigan that may indicate that 2 preventive visits to the dentist each year are no better than one at preventing disease.

Delta Dental seems to be indicating that this new, evidence based plan that treats patients based on their risk factors for disease is the way to go. I am very interested in letting good scientific evidence help guide the way we treat patients. I think this is in everyone’s best interest. That said, I think this plan is premature at best and disingenuous at worst. I think Dental Dental’s foray into personalized care is heading in the wrong direction for several reasons.

  • Weird Science: The new insurance policy is based on a University of Michigan study called “Patient Stratification for Preventive Care in Dentistry.” The study was designed to see if two recall appointments (“cleanings”) were better than one. The results would lead one to believe that two cleanings are no better than one. From what I can tell, this is the entire basis for reducing the number of baseline “cleanings” the patients with this insurance policy would receive. But there is a problem with this research. The outcome that the study measured was “tooth loss.” Which is to say, two cleanings is no better than one cleaning if your only concern is losing teeth to periodontal disease. Losing teeth due to gum disease is clearly a huge concern, but there’s a lot of other concerns (gingivitis, tooth decay, crooked teeth, tooth wear and dry mouth to name a few) that this research doesn’t address. “Tooth loss from periodontal disease” is a pretty blunt measure of whether 1 or 2 cleanings per year is better. It seems to me that most patients aim higher than just not losing teeth to gum disease.
  • No smoking?: Delta Dental listed many risk factors that they take into consideration when allowing for added “cleanings.” Diabetes, history of stroke/heart attack, suppressed immune system and even a genetic predilection toward gum disease. What didn’t they list? Smoking. Many believe that smoking is perhaps the most relevant risk factor of all when it comes to gum disease. Yet Delta Dental doesn’t list this as one factor that might qualify a patient for more covered recalls? What is that all about? Is it a moral stand against smoking? Whatever it is, they’re ignoring perhaps the most important factor in the development of gum disease. Since the new policy is based on research that judges tooth loss by gum disease, it seems that Delta Dental is picking the risk factors that benefit their bottom line more than the patients they serve.
  • What about tooth decay?: As I mentioned before, this research measured tooth loss due to gum disease. The elephant in the living room is the fact that they didn’t mention risk for tooth decay. Gum disease is common, but not nearly as common as tooth decay. For people with a lot of risk factors for decay (dry mouth, lots of medications, diet, soda consumption, poor home care), 6 months is probably too long to go without being seen by a dentist. For these folks, a year is practically a lifetime! Tooth decay can proceed very quickly in a high risk patient, yet they may not test as high risk for gum disease, which means that under a plain like this, they would likely only have one “cleaning” per year. While cleanings may not directly affect tooth decay, the fact that the patient is presenting to the dental office means that the dental team is much more likely to catch problems (e.g–cavities) while they are small and easier to treat.

cool looking dental hygienist clipYou might be thinking, “O.K. Doc. I hear you. But you’re missing the point. The insurance policies still pay for two exams per year. I can come in to see you twice and you’ll still get a chance to evaluate my teeth. Even though they won’t be as smooth and minty as before, I’m still getting all that preventive benefit. I think this is really about dentists losing all that revenue from cleaning teeth. So just pipe down.

Honestly, this is a semi-reasonable argument. The insidious part is what the insurance companies know that regular folks don’t think of. Whether you want to believe it or not, we human beings are driven by incentives. As much as I like to think that I can teach all patients about their needs, I’m still almost always limited in my treatment options by what the insurance will cover. Patients with insurance like to use their insurance benefits and they take seriously the limits that insurance policies place on them. If a patient has been used to coming every 6 months for a cleaning ever since they were a child, how likely are they going to set up for that second examination if they don’t get a cleaning? I can see it now: “So you want me to miss work so I can come over here and have you look at me for 15 minutes? I don’t get to spend quality time with April or Tanna gently polishing the plaque off my teeth? All I get is Doc shining that bright light in my eyes? Well, thanks but no thanks. I’ll pass until my next cleaning is covered.

I’ve written previously that cleanings are overrated. Apparently the insurance companies are beginning to agree with me. I hope I’m wrong.

Did you find this post ominous? Perhaps a bit scary? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a Saginaw dentist, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at I always answer my own emails!

Comfortably Numb

One of the amazing things about dentistry is that dental procedures are overwhelmingly outpatient surgeries.tooth pulled anesthetic extra

You might be thinking, “surgery? I’m just having a filling done! What’s this about surgery?”

Well, having a filling done is actually a small surgery on your tooth. You come to the office, I administer your anesthesia (aka: numb your tooth) and then do the surgery. Since most procedures are done in a matter of an hour or so, that’s pretty quick surgery! Compared to other types of surgery, dental procedures are piece of cake. Mostly because dentists are experts at local anesthesia. And even though having a numb lip and/or tongue is a bit of a drag, it sure beats feeling what the dentist needs to do to restore teeth.

Local anesthetic is an important part of delivering comfortable dental care. Luckily, it’s a very safe drug that can be used without concern on most patients. It works by temporarily blocking the pain signals from a stimulus (aka: someone drilling on your tooth) to your brain. The signals are still sent, but when the anesthetic is in place, these signals never make it to your brain. Local anesthetics can do this without affecting your ability to drive a car or sedating you. Which means dental procedures can be quick and painless!

local anesthesia diagramEvery dentist will tell you that some patients are more difficult to get comfortably numb. According to Dr. Stan Malamed, the guy who wrote the book on local anesthesia (no, really. He wrote THE book on it!), as long as you get local anesthetic close to the nerve, it will block the conduction of nerve signals. So what’s happening when we have a patient that isn’t getting completely numb?

First, we may have not put the anesthetic close enough to the nerve. It’s almost always on the lower teeth that we cannot get a patient completely numb. This is often due to the dentist attempting to block the large nerve that runs through the jaw. This is called an inferior alveolar nerve block and if you’ve ever had one, you’d probably remember it. When done correctly, it numbs your entire jaw from your back teeth all the way to your very front teeth on one side of your jaw. It also often makes your tongue, lip and gums numb. It’s a lot of numb! It also happens to be the most difficult and inconsistent injection for the dentist. The nerve canal runs differently in each person, so sometimes we don’t place the anesthetic close enough to the nerve and we don’t get complete anesthesia. Furthermore, some people have extra nerves coming from the tongue side of the jaw. So even if we’re successful with our nerve block, we may not have placed anesthetic in all the right spots.

Secondly, inflamed and infected tissue doesn’t always allow anesthetic to pass into the nerve and thus block conduction of pain signals. I’m less confident of my ability to get a patient comfortably numb on a very inflamed or infected tooth.

So, we can get patients comfortably numb most of the time. But what about the times when we can’t? What if we could “supercharge” our anesthetic to get more patients numb more consistently? Well, funny you should ask!

Local anesthetic solutions are relatively low pH. Which is to say they are acidic. Anyone who has read this blog knows I’ve talked a lot about acidity and pH, but it’s usually in reference to the acid produced by bacteria and in foods that can cause tooth decay. In a previous blog post I explained pH in this way:

pH is a measurement of acidiy or alkalinity in an aqueous (water based) solution. A solution that is high in acidity has a low pH and a solution that is more alkaline has a higher pH. pH is measured on a 14 point scale with 0 being the lowest pH (most acidic) and 14 being the highest pH (most basic or alkaline). A pH of 7 is considered neutral, neither majority acid or alkaline. This 14 point scale is logarithmic, which means that each number on the scale is 10 times higher or lower than number above it or below it. For instance, a substance with a pH of 3 is 10 times more acidic than a substance with a pH of 4 and 100 times more acidic than something with a pH of 5.

The low pH of anesthetic is what can cause a burning sensation when anesthetic is being injected. Furthermore, the molecules of anesthetic actually cross the membrane of nerves more easily if the solution is at a higher pH. You’re probably asking yourself “why don’t we make the pH of anesthetic higher so it doesn’t burn and it’s more effective?” It’s a great question with a simple answer. The chemicals that we use to raise the pH of anesthetic (aka: “buffer” the anesthetic) aren’t stable for a long time. If you’re going to buffer local anesthetic for patient use, you actually have to add the buffering agent right before you use it.

At Mead Family Dental, we’re now able to do that. We recently invested in the Onset System, which can effectively buffer anesthetic for more comfortable injections as well as more profound anesthesia that takes effect more quickly. This means more comfortable injections, faster injections and less pain at the injection site after the appointment. If you’re interested in a technical description of how it works, take a look at this video.

We’re pretty serious about patient comfort. We’ve always been pretty confident about keeping our patients comfortable during dental appointments. The Onset System is one more way we’re make sure our patients have a comfortable experience in the office!

Did you find this post numbing? Maybe a little nerve-wracking?? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a Saginaw dentist, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at I always answer my own emails!


Floss Naked

Curly hairFlossing your teeth can help you have healthier teeth and gums. But flossing has had a bit of a PR crisis. Hardly anyone does it. I think that it’s time to make flossing a whole lot sexier. I suggest that if you want healthier teeth and gums, you should floss naked.

“Really, Doc? You think I’ll floss more by adding sex appeal?”

Well, kind of. Let me explain myself. Flossing is a great habit to develop. However, it’s not easy to get into the flossing groove. It takes a few minutes, it’s kind of disgusting and if you try and do it too fast, it can be kind of painful. Painful and disgusting don’t really lead a person to decide, “hey, let’s make this a habit.”

I’ve found that the easiest way to make something a habit is to add it to an already existing routine. For instance, if your office is on the 6th floor and you decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator. You already know you have to go to your office. So the stairs just become another part of your routine and you benefit from walking up the stairs.

So you’re thinking, “O.K., Doc. What’s the deal with flossing naked?”

Well, taking a shower is already a part of most people’s routine. You get up, you make the coffee, and you jump in the shower. What if you were to add one more step to your shower routine? If you keep your floss in the shower, you mark that task off your list as easily as washing your hair. Plus, it has the added benefit of running water, so the disgusting part of flossing is eliminated. You can floss and then rinse your mouth right in the shower!

Get it? Floss naked!

If you’re contemplating being part of the “Floss Naked” movement, then let me offer you a couple shower floss traytips. Get yourself one of those suction cup shower shelves. You can find them at most stores and pharmacies and they’re very inexpensive. I keep mine slightly higher than the shower head and a little off to the side. It’s easy to grab, but it actually doesn’t get wet. There’s nothing worse than soggy floss.

These simple tips will make it easier for you to make flossing naked a habit.

  • Try a Glide style of floss. These products are designed to be particularly slick. They slide more easily into the contact between your teeth. If you use a gentle back and forth “sawing” motion instead of “popping” the floss into the contact you can avoid a painful laceration of your gums. This can cause bleeding and actually may lead some people with healthy gums to think that their gums are bleeding due to disease. Be gentle on those gums!
  • Make sure you pull out a longer piece than you think you need. This floss is pretty slippery so you need to wrap it around your fingers many more times than you think you should to have a firm hold. Furthermore, you’re in the shower. Your fingers are already wet. Take more than you think you need to get the job done. I promise you, I’m not paid kickbacks by Oral-B or Crest, I’ve just learned by experience.
  • Take your time. Just like brushing, people (including myself) have a tendency to rush this process. The faster you go, the more likely you are to be rough. If you’re in a rush, just skip flossing. Don’t worry, most people never floss at all, so taking a day off now and again is no big deal. Just don’t rush it.
  • When you’re done, place the floss somewhere easy to find and dispose of. I don’t recommend trying to wash it down the drain.
  • Rinse your hands off and your mouth out after you’re done. This is the best part about flossing naked. You don’t have to rinse and spit into the sink.

I know this sounds weird, maybe even a little perverse. Some of my patients look at me like I’ve lost my mind after I explain how great it is to floss in the shower. But after I bug them a little bit and they try it…many admit that it made flossers out of them! Give it a try. Your teeth and gums will thank you!

Did you find this post silly? Maybe a little bare? This dentist in Saginaw, MI would love to hear about it! You can share any Mead Family Dental post with a “Like” on Facebook, a “+1″ on Google+ or you can even “Tweet” it with Twitter! All you need to do is hover over the heart shaped button next to the title of the post. Or you can leave a comment by clicking on the balloon shaped icon next to the title.

If you’re looking for a Saginaw dentist, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at I always answer my own emails!


Ghost of Benefits Past

iStock_000018159844XSmallIt’s that time of year.

“What time of year is that? The time of year when we look forward to family time, turkey, football and gawdy Christmas sweaters?”

Well, yes. It’s that time of year, too. But I was thinking more of the time of year when you realize that you have dental benefits left. Since dental benefits are nothing like real insurance you realize that if you don’t use those benefits before the end of the year…they disappear. Where do they disappear?

Into the insurance company’s pockets!

I’m not trying to be a Scrooge here, but it’s true. Your dental “insurance” company would love it if you don’t come in until after New Year’s Day! That way, the benefits you were entitled to for 2013 are gone and they start the clock ticking on 2014. They’re hoping that maybe you’ll wait until the end of the year next year, too! On top of that, most dental benefit companies require that procedures involving lab work be placed before you can charge the dental benefits. And lab work takes time! You need to get in sooner rather than later to make sure you can be finished!

Christmas shopperThe holiday season is already tough. We’re in the office less in November and December because of the holidays. And you’ve got more stuff going on, too. So…make your appointment now! If you wait much longer, you’re going to run out of time! We’ve still got spots available to take care of your dental needs. But time is running out! Give us a call at (989) 799-9133 or use the “make an appointment online” link above and we’ll find a time for you in between making the stuffing and finding some really bad cologne for dad. Don’t let the ghost of dental benefit’s past catch up with you!

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