Bad Idea #47: DIY Dentistry

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Dental Health

With prices for nearly everything seeming to continually jump – stretching your budget and stressing you out – it’s easy to get sucked into the DIY revolution, especially with so many easy-to-find fixes on the internet. 

In a lot of ways, the marriage of DIY with the internet is great. Build a birdhouse, train yourself on tuba, or maybe even fix your fridge, all thanks to some online research and initiative. Not only do you save money, the pride of knowing you “did-it-yourself” never gets old. 

But the internet also can be a minefield of misinformation, some of it dangerous, even life-threatening. Then again, it’s also helpful for discovering what not to do. 

picture of pen cap, nail, wire, and toothpickConsider the case of Adam Martin, a 41-year old man in England who nearly died from a heart infection weeks after trying to dislodge a piece of popcorn from his teeth. For three days, he poked around the area with various household items – a pen cap, a toothpick, a piece of wire, a metal nail. All the prodding led to a toothache. Still, he didn’t see a dentist. 

Only after he developed flu-like symptoms, did he go to see a doctor. 

Ultimately, Martin was diagnosed with endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining that usually occurs when pathogens – such as oral bacteria – spread via the bloodstream to your heart. A 7-hour open heart surgery was required to repair his seriously damaged heart valves. 

“My heart was not properly working anymore. It was essentially wrecked. The infection had eaten the valves away,” Martin told Cornwall Live.

All for using improper and unsterile tools on his teeth and gums instead of consulting a dentist who could help. 

“If I had gone to the dentist in the first place,” said Martin, “then none of this would have happened.”

Then there are those who look to save a buck by trying to straighten their teeth on their own, using rubber bands, paper clips, fishing line, or whatever else some random teen on YouTube suggests. This can result in problems such as damaged teeth, infection, and bone and tooth loss. 

picture of fake bracesAt-home aligners can cause trouble, as well. Sure, you can get these DIY “invisible braces” at a fraction of the cost of professional orthodontics – at least when you consider only the up-front costs. 

“One of the common complaints,” says Dr. Brent Larson, director of the orthodontics division at the University of Minnesota, “is, ‘Well, my teeth might be a little bit straighter, but I can’t bite well anymore.” One reason why? There are too many factors that can’t be assessed remotely.

I need to know the health of the supporting gum tissue and bones. I need to know whether there’s any pathology or other things that might impact the treatment. I need to know how the jaw moves and functions, so that I can make people have a healthy, functional bite when we’re done, so that they can actually chew food successfully.

Others take the DIY route for dealing with nighttime tooth grinding or snoring, opting for the boil-and-bite night guards and other over-the-counter appliances you can easily find online or at your local drug or big box store. These, too, have their limitations, not fitting or functioning as well as custom appliances and potentially changing the bite in damaging ways, especially where TMJ (jaw joint) dysfunction is already present. 

A dentist will establish a baseline for range of motion, muscle health and soreness, and other signs of TMJ function or dysfunction. Without monitoring TMJ health prior to and during appliance use, a DIY customer may introduce or exacerbate a TMD.

Now, if you were to find yourself stranded on a remote desert island with an abscessed tooth and only an ice skate to work with, sure, DIY might be called for to stop the pain. In that case, we’d say good luck to you, and may your performance earn you an Oscar nod. 

For all other issues, though, call your dentist. 


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