Avoid Big Dental Bills with Safe and Inexpensive Products

By Catherine Shaffer on 11 March 2009 22 comments

Dental care is one of those big expenses that hits us in the pocketbook when we least expect it. Most people pay at least some of their dental bills out-of-pocket. Some people go in for a routine cleaning and come out with a schedule of appointments for thousands of dollars worth of restorative work. Traditional dentistry focuses on repairing the damage done by plaque-causing bacteria, but does little to address the underlying cause of decay and gum disease. A new trend called minimally invasive dentistry views these bacteria not as normal and unavoidable body flora, but as an aggressive bacterial infection that can be eliminated using a rational cleaning regimen.


Ellie Phillips is a Rochester, New York dentist and author of the dental advice blog Ask Dr. Ellie. In her blog (and in a forthcoming book), Dr. Ellie describes how she first became interested in minimally invasive dentistry (as it's now called). Her husband owned a restaurant, and the restaurant employees could not afford dental care. Out of a desire to provide some kind of inexpensive tools for preventive dental care, they installed a candy dispenser at the restaurant that contained xylitol candies. Xylitol is a natural sugar derived from birch trees. (If that sounds strange, think about how much maple syrup you've consumed. Same thing, except birch.)


It turns out that the bad bacteria attempt to metabolize xylitol, but get “stuck” in mid-process and starve to death. Xylitol is, in effect, a mild, selective antibiotic that eliminates plaque-forming bacteria and encourages the growth of harmless probiotic strains (which we all need for good health). The bad bacteria form clumps and strings on teeth. This is what the dentist scrapes off at those biannual cleanings. The good bacteria form an invisible slippery film on the teeth.


What Dr. Ellie found was that when the employees started eating a hand full of xylitol mints each day, their teeth and gums became naturally healthier. (The scientific literature backs up her observations.) Given time, and freedom from harmful bacteria, says Dr. Ellie, your body can even repair small cavities. This is called remineralization.


Since that time, Dr. Ellie has developed an oral hygiene system that encourages good bacteria and eliminates bad bacteria. The system (“Clean White Teeth”) involves eating a minimum dose of xylitol each day, brushing with a scrupulously clean toothbrush, and using four specific products : Closys rinse, Listerine, ACT fluoride rinse, and plain Crest toothpaste. She has many testimonials from happy patients and blog readers whose dental problems have been completely reversed by this regimen. Dr. Ellie is very clear that she does not receive any payment from Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, or any other corporation for endorsing these products.


The xylitol candies and all of the mouth rinses are not cheap. They cost more than the average person's oral hygeine routine. However, they are much cheaper than root canals, gingival surgery, and tooth implants.


In fact, I decided to try this system myself. First I have to give you some background. I never had a cavity in my life, but as of about three years ago, I did have some gingivitis, with a few periodontal pockets that my dentist was watching. We had many conversations about flossing. The problem: I was flossing regularly and doing everything recommended by the dentist, but my gums were not improving. My dentist, whom I do like very much, didn't have any new recommendations to offer, except to continue flossing.


Some time later, I decided to begin taking fish oil supplements, because I had been impressed by new research showing the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for your overall health. Within about a month, I noticed my gums were a strange color. They were light pink! This is the color of healthy gums. Sure enough, when I went to the dentist, they couldn't get over what an improvement there had been in my gums. So that's my personal recommendation. The science on this is somewhat fuzzy (omega-3's are known to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, and cardio and gingival health have been shown to be linked). It's worth a try.


So when I started using Dr. Ellie's system, I already had pretty good teeth and gums. But like most everyone, I would have some sensitivity and bleeding during cleanings, and the hygienist spent some time scraping tartar. I usually got a lecture about flossing more.


I was eager to see if there would be any difference after I started the system. To my surprise, the hygienist found almost no tartar to scrape, and my gums had zero bleeding, except in one place where I had suffered bone loss from previous decades of simmering gingivitis. Again, they were very happy and impressed with my progress. I believe my largest periodontal pocket even measured a millimeter smaller.


So that's my personal testimonial. I am very happy to share this resource with Wise Bread readers. I would encourage you to go read through the Dr. Ellie blog archives. It's well worth the investment of time. She gives advice for many situations, including young children, cancer patients, and more. Medical science is just beginning to really explore the impact that microflora has on human health. So much is unknown. But after more than thirty years of being blamed for my own poor oral health, I am very happy to know that I just had an infection and was able to cure it naturally.


Average: 5 (3 votes)
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


22 discussions

Add New Comment

This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture

Could you write a follow up post outlining the specific costs involved?

This is very interesting!


Lynn Truong's picture

Very interesting!  I've started taking fish supplements too but didn't know that it would have teeth benefits as well.

Where do you find the xylitol mints and is there a recommended amount?  For example, I've seen some big name gums, like Trident gums, say something like "with xylitol" but are those the same, or do they have such small amounts of the xylitol in it that it's not as beneficial?

Also, Listerine has a new 4-in-one mouthwash that has a different active ingredient than their original formula.  Their new one just has flouride.  I'm wondering if the new formula that boasts 4 different benefits but is only made with flouride is any better than their original formula that had a completely different active ingredient?

Catherine Shaffer's picture

I can run down the costs right here really quick. A 32 ounce bottle of closys is about $13. A big bottle of listerine is something like $11 (I think), and the ACT rinse runs around $8. Figure one bottle per month of each.  Pure xylitol sugar is $8/pound or 454 grams. That will last about 75 days. The candies are considerably more expensive. Candies will run you about $1/day.

So if you want to eat the "minimum dose" of pure xylitol sugar, you'll be in the neighborhood of $25-$35/month (not counting toothpaste). If you want to eat the candies, then it would be about $30 additional, for $55-$65/month. Dr. Ellie says you need to eat the xylitol daily for six months to get rid of your bad bacteria.

Closys can be a bit tricky to find consistently. I buy it at Walgreens or CVS.

(Caveat: I'm not sure each bottle of mouthwash lasts exactly one month.)


Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor 

Catherine Shaffer's picture

I really recommend going to askdrellie.blogspot.com for specific questions because she does a great job of covering every angle. I find pure xylitol candies at natural and organic grocery stores. You can also buy them on Dr. Ellie's web site.


Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor 

Guest's picture

I have also had success with using tea tree oil toothpicks - the last time I saw dentist she was shocked not to find any gingivitis - which I accredit to the tea tree oil effect. I also have made a simple mouthwash with 1/2 hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 water. You can also scrape a certain amount of your own tartar off with your own dental implements, saving time & $ with the hygienist...I also have found that my gums respond to my general health- and my range of vitamin supplements do help. But your comments on the very clean toothbrush will get me back to using my brush head sanitizer, which I have been neglecting! Wish I had known all this a LONG time ago before all my dental work was necessary....Also beware of following everythinjg dentists say - I had one periodentist years ago recommend surgery on my gums - which I put off forever - & then read that that method wasn't very effective AT ALL.

Guest's picture

Thank you so much for this very informative article! My teeth and gums are in pretty good shape already, but I'll implement these suggestions as a preventive measure. My mom has some tooth problems, so I'll make sure she sees this as well.

Guest's picture

Thanks so much for this post. In spite of brushing, flossing and care with nutrition, I have been struggling with dental issues for a long time. I feel that the mainstream dental establishment has started to aggressively push expensive restorative procedures without helping us really improve our basic dental health. That has certainly been my experience. It may be too late for me, though I'm still going to try it, but I am most definitely going to try this with my children in the hope that they can maintain their dental health well into old age. Thanks again.

Guest's picture

I too had problems with gingivitis. After being diagnosed, I finally began daily flossing. But despite regular professional cleanings every six months, it didn't clear up. After 18 months of flossing with gingivitis still present, my dentist suggested scheduling extra cleanings with the hygienist. It only took one extra cleaning, three months after my previous one, to clear up the gingivitis.

Since then I've gone with the usual 6 months between office visits and no gingivitis for two years. I brush and floss only once a day, most days, though I don't eat that many sweets either. My dentist said that this often happens with patients who practice good hygiene but can't clear up gingivitis on their own. Sometimes a short period of more frequent cleanings is all it takes to resolve the problem. It was definitely worth paying out of pocket for that third annual cleaning to beat the gingivitis. I'll keep the xylitol in mind though, in case it ever returns.

I agree that dental hygiene is really worth staying on top of, even if it costs a bit. There's nothing quite like ending up in excruciating, expensive, and entirely preventable pain to make you wish you'd done what you always knew you should have.

Catherine Shaffer's picture

Kate (and others in generally good dental health),

CWT is great preventive care, too, and if your hygienist is doing any scaling at all at your regular checkups, then you still have an "infection" to contend with, and could reasonably expect even better.


Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor 

Guest's picture

I began using a similar method of incorporating rinses, brushing, and chewing gum with Xylitol. In the morning after breakfast and at night before I go to bed: Listerine Advanced rinse then Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste. During the day after every snack, I chew two pieces of Orbit (ADA accepted with Xylitol) gum. Along with occasional (at least twice a week) flossing, plenty of calcium, and the avoidance of coffee and other serious teeth stainers (although I do drink green tea regularly, my teeth stay bright white between cleanings now. I get cleanings every six months and since I started this ritual (two years ago), I've not had any problems or painful cleanings (or bleeding gums) at the dentist.

I am BJs wholesale club member and they have coupons seemingly every three months for Listerine and Crest. Moreover, they sell Orbit in bulk, as well.

Guest's picture

I enjoyed this post. My mom is a dentist and I can't wait to run this information by her. She is usually very receptive to the newest research and unlike most dentists, adaptive to changing practice.

I agree that regular preventive maintenance is much more preferable to a big dental bill. Don't think for a minute that dentists want you in their chair for major tooth work. There are some that may treat patients this way, but all the ones I know personally are committed and passionate about finding ways for their patients to live a healthier "tooth lifestyle."

I think many people under-estimate the importance of keeping their teeth in good shape. Almost every medical book I've read (mind you, they're the "for dummies" variety) agrees that dental health is key to overall health via a number of subtle links to the rest of the body. It's quite amazing if you get into it.

Guest's picture

What if you french kiss your partner and they aren't on board with this dental regime and they have this bacteria in their mouth - won't you just be contaminating yourself all over again?

Guest's picture

Thank you so much for this information. Despite brushing, flossing, rinsing with ACT, and doing everything else my dental hygienist says, I have had five cavities in my last two visits! She once told me that tooth problems are worst in your twenties and thirties, which I definitely believe. I'm definitely going to start using Listerine and try to get my hands on Xylitol and Closys.

Guest's picture

Listerine- lots of alcohol in it has been linked to cancer of the mouth
ACT mouthwash plus toothpaste= lots of flouride which is linked to many diseases including cancer
Xylitol- not a lot of research about it or its side effects. Results are anecdotal.

Lots of bad info here especially recommending products that are associated with cancer. Results are anecdotal and not supported by any research.
Be very careful when using cancer causing substances because of anecdotal utterances by dentists and bloggers

Catherine Shaffer's picture

I would encourage everyone always to do their own research and use their own judgment when seeking medical or dental care. The products recommended by Dr. Ellie are sold on the open market and considered safe. I would point out that conventional drugs and antibiotics used to treat infections and other health problems all have risks as well. As noted above, oral hygiene is linked to overall bodily health (in a causative fashion) and so it is much more than a matter of convenience or vanity.

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor 

Guest's picture

I would also suggest incorporating the following remineralization products into a preventative dental health routine. The assist in the natural remineralization process that occurs in our mouths and make your teeth stronger. My dentist has noticed a big improvement in periodontal health and the reversal of early caries (cavities)

1) Recaldent

Used to be in Trident White gum, until they took it out and came out with (a more expensive, go figure...) gum called Trident Xtra Care. Not sure how much Recaldent is in each piece though.

A better/stronger product with Recaldent is GC MI Paste, which you put on your finger and spread over your teeth and let it sit for a few minutes before expectorating it. Marketed to dentists to treat white spot lesions and as a post-bleaching treatment, you can buy it yourself from places like dentist.net

2) NovaMin

Consumer products are just starting to appear with this product, also a remineralization compound which originally was developed/marketed as "BioGlass" which is used to help implant and bone material graft together. As the name suggests, it's a mixture of ionic forms of calcium, phosphorus, silica, and sodium which are constituents of glass, very "natural" ingredients. Dr. Collins makes a toothpaste with this compound in it called Restore. There is also a product called Oravive that just came on the market, I believe.

In any case, I agree that the dental (and medical) professions are often times focused more on fixing problems than preventing them, and that these professionals are usually ignorant of some of these preventative treatments or how to use them. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but when you think about it, there is no financial incentive for medical professionals to encourage preventative care! They make their money by treating problems, not preventing them. In any case, nobody cares more about your own health than YOU do; I strongly encourage everyone to do their own research regarding how to take care of themselves.

Guest's picture

How much fish oil you're taking and where you get the xylitol mints? (Do you have to order them online?)

Catherine Shaffer's picture

Personally, I take two of the big capsules each day. I buy xylitol mints at a local natural/organic grocery.

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor 

Guest's picture

I used to have dental problems. Now the hygienist jokes that I don't need her.

Dental health is related to overall health in much more than a causative fashion - diet and overall health drive dental health, too.

Fish oil is a good start, but foods containing vitamin C and its cofactors also help gum health. High mineral content in the diet and adequate exposure to sunlight (for vitamin D) strengthen the teeth (research has shown a direct correlation between most and least daylight in school buildings and students' number of caries - by a factor of 9).

The expensive rinses are not necessary. A few bites of good aged cheese are much more pleasurable and will outcompete bad bacteria, too. Baking soda with a few drops of essential oil - thyme or wild oregano, maybe a little peppermint - does an amazing job polishing teeth and eliminating plaque, very inexpensively.

Xylitol is fine for many people, incidentally, but can contribute to IBS and other digestive disorders. There are better alternative.

Guest's picture

Interesting post . . .

Guest's picture

After missing years of dental appointments, I saw a dentist last year who promptly identified 13 cavities in my mouth. Horrified, I pursued his staff to help me set up the best plan for getting all of those fillings. When they hedged, instinct told me to get a second opinion. And that opinion found one cavity.

I was lucky -- my parents could and did afford us regular dental visits. After that experience with a Wyoming dentist, I've renewed my commitment to keep my teeth until the day I die.

I'll be sure to check out Dr. Ellie's blog -- and I'm so grateful to have found a blog dedicated to oral health! Thanks!

Guest's picture

What amount of Omega 3s were you taking daily?