By Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
Whether you've practiced for 15 days or 15 years, you've undoubtedly heard some real doozies. Over the past four decades, patient antics and actions have consistently amused me. At the same time, odd patients have made me want to scratch my head in amazement or say, "Why are you doing this?"
I knew I was not the only hygienist on the planet who had amusing stories. So I called upon the collective wisdom of the COHA Facebook Community, an online, members-only group of dental hygienists supported by Colgate. Members chat about everything from the newest mouth rinse, working interviews, the latest news on remineralization products, etc.
These dedicated clinicians are a gold mine of quirky stories that will instantly give every reader a big belly laugh, nature's natural stress reducer. As predicted, the contributions included funny encounters, stunning revelations, amazing behaviors, bizarre antidotes, and a few vignettes tinged with sadness.
Home-style cosmetic dentistry
New York-based Melissa recounted an interesting new patient, a woman in her late 70s or early 80s. The patient arrived for the appointment with Kool-Aid-red hair and all dressed up in a fake fur coat. During the taking of X-rays, the patient complained of an odd taste in her mouth.
Melissa noticed white stuff flaking off the woman's teeth. The patient's response was priceless: "Well, that's just what happens to the Wite-Out after a while!" Apparently, the woman had been painting her teeth with typewriter correction fluid twice a day for years. To this day, Melissa still wonders about the woman's curious taste in hair and clothing, not to mention her attempts to have white teeth.
Andrea's patient painted her front teeth with clear fingernail polish to "make them look shiny." The patient couldn't understand why it was not professionally recommended.
Other articles to consider reading:
- An open letter to my fellow dental professionals about flossing
- Things I wish I had known 30 years ago
- When do you say enough is enough – and fire a dental patient?
Out, darn spot!
Jenni's patient tried removing stains from her teeth by brushing with charcoal, a remedy recommended by the woman's sister. The lady found it messy to break the charcoal tablets to release the powder and didn't use the charcoal often enough to notice any difference. Song's patient found a less messy plan. She uses Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to buff out stains on her crowns.
Red wine drinkers love the beverage, but hate the stains. Vassy's patient in New York uses lemon juice mixed with baking soda right after she drinks red wine, a whitening concoction recommended by Dr. Oz.
Before you send a nasty email to Dr. Oz about the acidity of lemon juice and its effect on tooth structure, reflect back on basic chemistry. Baking soda is a strong alkali. Mixing equal parts of juice and baking soda creates a slurry that tests out at pH 8.5, so no harm to teeth with this kind of formulation.
When it comes to "killing germs," people are all over the map. Since this is not a paper on why wiping all microorganisms off the planet is a bad plan (and how homeostasis is the key), enjoy how some patients plan to kill germs.
Theresa, a Mississippi hygienist, has a patient who swishes every day with half of a shot glass of whiskey and has not had a cavity in 25 years. The clinical exam revealed decay-free dentition. According to Theresa, there is a loose end to this story. Inquiring minds want to know the final outcome. Did he spit the whiskey out, or swallow his daily dose of disinfectant?
Stacy from Utah had a patient who swished with vinegar every day to disinfect his mouth. The end result was that his teeth were very small and eroded. Pat had a patient who developed a minor gum irritation. He opted to treat the soreness by rinsing with Listerine seven times a day, giving himself a severe chemical burn throughout the entire inside of his mouth.
You're eating what?
Malinda's patient worked in a Maryland seafood takeout restaurant. The kitchen was unbearably hot. In a feeble attempt to stay comfortable, Malinda's patient sucked on cold lemon wedges throughout the day. Eventually her teeth were so eroded that there was no prep needed when she got six maxillary anterior veneers.
Christina, a veteran hygienist in Kentucky, had a male patient who was totally focused on keeping his weight under control. He was convinced that straight apple cider vinegar shots helped him reach his goal. He also had a large anterior bridge. Do you see any connection?
Speaking of seeing, the first time Dawn saw one young man, she was puzzled. His teeth looked like glass. Within the first few minutes, she had the answer. This Texas boy was drinking a dozen or more diet colas a day. Obviously his approach to weight control was different than Christina's patient.
Paige's patient had severe occlusal wear from gnawing on chicken bones.
So you don't believe in fluoride
Lainey's patient had extensive decay, but didn't believe in fluoride. His solution was to add crushed eggshells to his smoothies to strengthen his teeth. Deborah's patient in Nevada found a simple solution on the Internet to prevent decay and strengthen enamel -- coconut oil.
Just when Teddy thought she had heard it all, Mr. All-Natural walked into her New Jersey office, complaining of mouth sores. He had found a mouthwash recipe online that met his requirements: no fluoride and no chemicals -- just all natural. The homemade brew contained vodka, sanguinaria root, and myrrh among other ingredients.
Keeping those pearly whites sparkling clean
In all her years of clinical, Miranda has heard this story only once. She had a patient whose mother taught her to use aluminum foil with a thin smear of Vaseline to clean between her teeth.
Susan treated an elderly Michigan man who brushed with CLR, a household cleaner that dissolves hard water stains and deposits. He figured if it worked on calcium deposits on his sink, it would be the ideal preventive agent in his mouth.
Linda works in a practice in Indiana. A pair of elderly twins, who did not believe in hygiene visits, each swallowed two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar every day. Even though their fillings were falling out, the twins thought their teeth were perfect and that they had no calculus. Their minds were made up. Remarkably, the twins passed away two days apart and are buried together, proving the two traveled through life with a singular focus.
Amy had a patient who swore that clicking his teeth together six times in the morning and six times in the evening would resolve his periodontal disease, a cure recommended by the patient's uncle, an Eastern medicine practitioner in China. No amount of information would sway this man's belief. It was an interesting situation since the patient worked in microbiology research.
White and bright
Jennifer's patient in Tennessee rubbed her teeth every day with the inside of a banana peel. The Internet is full of sites recommending this approach, including a dental office. Proponents suggest high amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese are the active ingredients. There are also claims on the web that applying a mixture of mashed strawberries and baking soda has whitening properties.
One of Pat's patients in Florida is a practicing ENT. He recounted a story about a patient who wanted white teeth. The man rinsed with Clorox bleach and ended up with abscesses inside his cheeks.
Maureen in Hartford shared an amazing story. She recalled a mother who insisted her three children brush their teeth and tongues every night with Clorox bleach to freshen their breath and whiten their teeth. Maureen and her doctor did everything to discourage this practice, but the mother insisted her children's teeth and breath were much better since they started this regimen.
Dawnne has a really good friend who was short on funds and decided to apply a paste of diatomaceous earth moistened with white vinegar to his teeth. He fashioned homemade trays from aluminum foil to keep the paste in contact with his teeth.
Seasoned veteran Amy has seen a few California adolescents aspiring to have whiter, brighter smiles -- a problem because they decided more was better, despite the instructions for the home-whitening products. Rather than follow the two-week recommended home-bleaching protocol, these teens opted to use the OTC whitening kit for two months. Their misguided efforts created so much damage that their teeth had to be restored with veneers or crowns.
No thanks, I'll do it myself
Nancy's denture story is hard to imagine. Years ago, a new patient arrived wanting relief from the pain caused by her upper denture. The appliance did not fit well. Apparently, this frugal New York senior was using her deceased sister's prosthesis.
Leah used to take care of an elderly gentleman who smoothed down every chipped tooth with an emery board. She begged him at every visit not to do this, but couldn't convince him otherwise!
Amy's sister is a dentist who had a patient that worked in maintenance for Southwest Airlines. Every time a natural tooth broke, the patient put the pieces back together with industrial glue.
Apparently, it is not uncommon for patients to have a natural tooth that is totally removable. Cathy in Kentucky said her patient took the tooth out to show her and promptly put it right back into an epithelialized socket. Pam in Ohio and Pat in Florida reported similar episodes.
Never mind the store-bought stuff
It's a wonder how people don't get really sick from what they are using to clean their teeth. More patients used powdered, gritty home cleaning products as substitutes for toothpaste than any other product. Cathy's patient used Bon Ami, and Cindy from Alabama reported a doctor's wife preferred Ajax.
Polly had a patient while in school who mixed a little Comet cleanser with his Aim toothpaste and remarked, "Boy, his teeth were white!" Another one of Polly's patients had a different strategy. He stopped using toothpaste because he thought it wore down his teeth, so he substituted sandpaper instead.
There were several reports about patients using bar soap. Kristyn once had an older gentleman patient who said, "I bet you can't guess what I brush my teeth with!" After a few guesses, he confessed. Soldiers could not always get toothpaste during World War II, so the men started using Ivory soap, figuring it was better than nothing. According to Krystyn, he never went back to traditional toothpaste and had no decay or periodontal issues. Michelle's 94-year-old patient, who she described as a real spark plug, started using Ivory soap when he was 17 years old. His mouth was immaculate -- beautiful pink tissue and no discernible plaque or calculus.
In all fairness, we owe a huge debt of gratitude for all of the amazing people who trust us with their care. They make us smile, and they make us laugh. Some make us want to tear our hair out, and others make us shudder. Most make us glad to be dental hygienists and to be able to earn a living. So, ladies and gentlemen from the COHA Community, please take a collective bow, and thanks for sharing the memories and bringing a smile to our faces and hearts!
ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power-driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'But it's on the web!'
A small sampling of the remedies that appear on the Internet is below. All of the recipes and directions are copied verbatim (including the typographical errors). The final concoction described makes the most sense.
Recipe for Sanguinaria Mint Mouthwash
1 T. myrrh
1 heaping T. bloodroot (Sanguinaria root)
3 T. dried mint leaves
1 1/2 cups vodka
Glass quart-sized jar with lid
1. Cut bloodroot up into small pieces
2. Place herbs in glass jar and cover with vodka
3. Cover tightly and shake well.
4. Leave at room temperature and shake daily for two weeks.
5. After two weeks, strain herbs and pour liquid back into jar.
6. Fill jar the remaining way with filtered water.
Cautions: Do not swallow (not that you'd want to anyway!) If pregnant or nursing ask your health care professional. Not for small children.
To use, brush teeth then swish mouthwash for at least a minute. Don't eat or drink for 30 minutes.
Remedy No. 2 – banana or orange peels
Are you a fan of bananas? You will be after you hear about this home remedy! Applying a banana peel to achieve white teeth can be done by gently rubbing the inside of the peel on your teeth for about two minutes once or twice a day. Those awesome minerals that bananas are already known for, such as potassium, manganese and magnesium, are absorbed into your teeth and help keep them looking their best! The same results have also been linked to the inner layer of orange peels.
Remedy No. 3 - strawberries
For another fruity take on whiter teeth, you can try mashing up a strawberry and mixing it with a small amount of baking soda to create your own whitening toothpaste. The acids in the strawberry work to polish and whiten your teeth. Limit this remedy to about once a month.
How to Make Homemade Mouthwash that Whitens and Remineralizes
- 2 teaspoons calcium carbonate powder
- 1 teaspoon xylitol crystals
- 10 drops concentrated trace minerals liquid
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 5 drops lemon essential oil
- 5 drops spearmint essential oil
- 2 cups of filtered water
- In a large glass mixing cup, stir together the calcium powder and xylitol crystals.
- Add liquid minerals and essential oils.
- Add water and stir.
- Pour mixture into a glass bottle (I reused an old apple cider vinegar bottle).
- Close the lid tightly and shake ingredients together for about 30-60 seconds so the xylitol dissolves.
- Shake well before using.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Why These Ingredients?
Calcium carbonate powder: for remineralizing teeth
Xylitol crystals: for sweetness and cavity protection
Concentrated trace minerals liquid: for remineralizing teeth
Peppermint essential oil: for flavor and fresh breath
Lemon essential oil: for whiter, brighter teeth
Spearmint essential oil: for flavor and fresh breath
Homemade basil tooth powder
Take fresh basil leaves and leave them in shade to dry them out. Once the basil leaves get fully dried, grind them to get a powder out of them. Use this powder to brush your teeth. You can use your fingers to rub your teeth with this basil powder or can even mix the powder with your regular tooth paste and use it that way.
Basil-orange peel mask for teeth
You will need:
- Fresh basil leaves- 7-8
- Powder of dried orange peel- 2 tsp
- Take the fresh basil leaves and crush them to get their paste.
- Add the powder of orange peel with the crushed basil leaves and mix well.
- Apply this paste on your teeth.
- Leave for 15-20 minutes.
- Wash off with water
Basil-mustard oil tooth paste
You will need:
- Basil leaves- 8-10
- Mustard oil- ½ -1 tsp
- Crush the basil leaves to get its paste.
- Mix the basil paste with mustard oil well.
- Use this as your toothpaste to get white teeth.
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