The Dangers of Do-it-Yourself Dentistry

When you’re looking to fix something around the house, the internet can be a great place to find how-to tips. Unfortunately, some people have extended that idea to their teeth, surfing social media to find “do-it-yourself dentistry” tips for perfecting their smile.

But beware: These “hacks” can seriously damage your teeth and cause more complicated (and costly) dental problems down the road. Below are seven common hacks—and why you should avoid them.

1. Extracting your own tooth. No matter how loose your tooth is, pulling it yourself is a bad idea.

Extraction is a delicate procedure that requires years of training and practice. Doing it wrong can cause a painful infection, either in the root that was left behind or in the bone where the tooth was once lodged. Oral surgery may be needed to resolve the infection.

2. Self-bracing. Teenagers who can’t get braces or who are desperate for a quick way to fix spaces between teeth are wrapping rubber bands or hair elastics tightly around them to close those gaps.

What they don’t realize is that once the band is removed, the teeth will quickly shift back to their original position. Worse, by moving the teeth too quickly self-bracing can damage the connective tissue that anchors them, leading to tooth loss.

3. Toothpaste substitutes. Social media is full of toothpaste alternatives—from acidic fruits and coconut oil to hydrogen peroxide and scouring pads—that reportedly make your teeth look brighter.

Any of those products can irritate the gums and make teeth more sensitive. Even more seriously, they can break down enamel (the tooth’s protective layer) and cause gums to recede, leading to root exposure.

4. Filing teeth. Sounds easy: If you have a chipped tooth or your teeth are uneven, just grab a conventional nail file and start scratching.

But that nail file can damage your enamel leading to sensitivity, pain, cavities and discoloration. Filing down your teeth also can affect your bite, causing unnecessary wear and grinding on your teeth, as well as jaw and jaw joint pain.

What’s more, germs accumulate on nail files, and letting those germs into your mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

5. Faux flossers. Many people looking to save money on dental floss, or who are away from home without a flosser or toothbrush, simply pluck out a strand of hair and start flossing. Fingernails, paper, cards, cutlery and safety pins are other common floss “alternatives.”

But flossing with something other than dental floss or a floss pick can cause gum pain, and can traumatize the gums, even leading to irreversible gum damage.

6. Over-the-counter plaque scrapers. Plaque scrapers are widely available, and people use them to scrape off plaque and tartar and save on periodic dental cleanings.

Plaque scrapers are sharp, however, and they can damage tooth enamel or puncture gums, tongue or other soft tissue areas if used incorrectly. Gum injury caused by a plaque scraper can lead to gum recession and root exposure. Self-scraping mishaps also can push tartar under the gumline, leading to more serious dental problems down the road.

7. Homemade dentures. To avoid a visit to the dentist, some people push cheap, moldable plastic into the gaps where their teeth once stood.

But while plastic costs much less than custom-crafted dentures, it won’t fit as well. The result: Food, bacteria and plaque settle around the plastic and nearby teeth. This can lead to gum and bone inflammation and, ultimately, root exposure and bone loss. Do-it-yourself dentures also can become dislodged and be accidentally swallowed or inhaled, leading to choking.