Photo credit: Prostock-Studio - Getty Images

Photo credit: Prostock-Studio – Getty Images

Keeping your mouth in tip-top shape isn’t just about polishing your smile—practicing good oral hygiene might also lower your risk of serious health conditions. Advanced gum disease, for example, is linked to stroke, cardiovascular disease, and pneumonia.

We can’t take shortcuts on the basics, like brushing teeth twice a day and seeing a dentist regularly, says Ruchi Sahota, D.D.S., a family dentist and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association (ADA).

Still, plenty of products claim to keep teeth healthy with less effort. Which ones work, and which are just mouthing off?

Flossing Devices

What they are: Interdental cleaners that shoot water or mouthwash between teeth, like floss without the string.

What we know: Cleaning between teeth at least once a day is crucial for preventing bacteria-filled plaque from settling between teeth, Sahota says. Research on the devices is primarily manufacturer-funded, but most of it has found that these work as well as string floss. Some have even been awarded the ADA Seal of Approval.

Should you try them? Yes—especially if you have dexterity issues or dental appliances like braces that make using string floss difficult, says Ada Cooper, D.D.S., a dentist and a spokesperson for the ADA. The best interdental cleaner is one you’ll use every day, she adds, so if water is easier for you than floss, it’s well worth the cost.

Tongue Scrapers

What they are: Loop- or U-shaped tools, often metal, used to manually remove buildup from the tongue.

What we know: There’s no evidence that scraping the tongue improves chronic bad breath (a.k.a. halitosis), Cooper says: “In fact, bad-breath bacteria can grow back just as fast as you remove it.” Halitosis is often caused by dental issues or ailments unrelated to the tongue; a dentist can determine its real cause.

Should you try them? Sure, as an addition to your regimen, but not as a substitute for regular brushing, flossing, and checkups. “It’s not going to harm the mouth, but it’s not necessarily going to be effective either,” Cooper says.

Wearable Toothbrushes

What they are: Hands-free devices worn like mouth guards that use foaming toothpaste, vibrations, and tiny bristles. Some have blue and red LEDs that are said to kill bacteria and reduce gum inflammation.

What we know: Because they’re so new, research is scant—and not very promising. A 2020 study found one wearable toothbrush brand so ineffective as to be “not significantly different from no brushing.” No study has found the LED lights to have therapeutic value for oral health.

Should you try them? Nope. Neither expert is convinced that they’ll clean the teeth thoroughly or even fit properly, as every mouth is different. It’s better to use a good electric toothbrush, or even an old-fashioned manual one.

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Prevention.

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