Don't try this at home
Over-the-counter dental instruments may
do more harm than good

As more oral health product manufacturers introduce dental instruments to the consumer market, more patients are seeking treatment as a result of misuse of these devices, reports the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of North American dentists dedicated to continuing education to ensure the best possible dental care for the patient.

AGD spokesdentist Heidi Hausauer, DDS, of Almeda, California, says she frequently sees devices that resemble a scaler--an instrument used by dentists and dental hygienists for removing tartar and other deposits from the tooth surface--advertised in magazines and sold in drug stores.

"I've had people come into the office who have used these over-the-counter dental instruments and chipped their front tooth with them," she says. "I've seen patients gauge roots and chip the enamel off lower incisors."

Misuse of the devices also can lead to periodontal abscess when tartar is pushed under the gumline.

While dentists and hygienists are trained in the proper use of dental instruments and removing tartar, they warn that patients attempting to do it themselves at home may do more harm than good. Rather than attempt to advise patients on proper use of these devices, many tell their patients it is safest to avoid using them at all.

"I would rather see the dentist or hygienist remove tartar," says Dr. Hausauer. "Regular professional cleaning and dental visits are much healthier than buying something over the counter and picking at your teeth."