In the past year, I’ve spent a small fortune at the dentist. Between wisdom teeth removal, a few routine cleanings and the replacement of an old cavity, my tab has come to several thousand dollars. (Needless to say, I don’t have dental insurance: I’m a freelance writer. But I do have a dental plan.) After my last trip to the dentist, I left the office with two thoughts: 1) novocaine just might be the most effective medication neuroscience will ever invent and 2) do those cleanings by the dental hygienist (an extra $65 in my case) really do anything? I use one of those fancy toothbrushes, and my teeth don’t feel very different after getting a professional cleaning.
Luckily, Ian Ayres provides us with some answers:
Thank God for Google. It turns out there is an entire journal called “Evidence Based Dentistry.” And in just a few minutes, I was looking at a formal Cochrane review titled “Insufficient evidence to understand effect of routine scaling and polishing.”
The review looked for evidence to answer two related questions:
The first is, do scale and polish procedures [having your teeth cleaned] lead to any difference in periodontal health compared with no scale and polish? Second, does the interval between these scale and polishing procedures make any difference?
The results were not heartening for those of us who have suffered through dozens upon dozens of cleanings. The meta analysis of qualifying studies suggested that the evidence was mixed, at best. For example, there is not strong evidence that hygienist cleaning reduces gingivitis:
[T]he authors of the only study that found differences in gingivitis scores (at 6, 12 and 22 months) deemed those differences clinically irrelevant….
My dad always told me that dealership rust-proofing was a scam to give dealerships some extra cash without providing your car with any extra protection. Could getting your teeth cleaned be the economic equivalent to having a car dealership rust-proof your car?
That strikes me as an unfair comparison. But I am going to think twice about spedning money on a full-cleaning the next time I’m at the dentist.