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Popular Ideas on Healthy Teeth Are Marketing, Not Dental Science

October 16, 2018
by Steve Steinberg, UW School of Dentistry


Almost any schoolchild can tell you: We prevent cavities by brushing our teeth, because that’s how you remove the sticky film containing millions of decay-causing germs.

But this notion is more of an advertising-created myth than fact, according to Philippe Hujoel, a University of Washington School of Dentistry researcher, in an article published in the journal Gerodontology.

Almost as far back as a century ago, scientists regarded oral hygiene products as useless in preventing dental cavities.  The bacteria causing cavities had been documented to dwell in fissures and cracks on teeth, where they were inaccessible to oral hygiene products.  Subsequent clinical research confirms that these scientists had it right. That raises the question: How could dental plaque removal become considered a first line of defense in dental cavity prevention?

In his journal article, Hujoel cites direct-to-consumer advertising in the early 20th century, which turned the idea that simple oral hygiene could remove the cavity-causing film into accepted wisdom. The man who globalized this myth to sell toothpaste was marketing pioneer Claude Hopkins.

Hopkins also engaged in fearmongering, including claims that grave diseases would be prevented when buying the toothpaste he advertised.

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