For thousands of years, humans have looked to nature for solutions to their health needs, with oral health being no exception. However, as technology has advanced, modern dentistry has increasingly grown to use synthetic compounds.
For some people, this shift away from natural and herbal remedies is viewed as an abandonment of nature. These individuals sometimes view “chemical" alternatives as unnecessary or outright harmful, presenting a challenge to the dental professional recommending evidence-based products that contain synthetics. If you’re wondering how to navigate this conversation with your patients, here are six talking points to get you started.
1. Synthetics have a larger evidence base
Some patients may wonder why we appear to place more trust in synthetic ingredients than natural remedies. We know that this is because there is a large evidence base of systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and individual randomized controlled trials in support of products containing synthetic compounds. Meanwhile, herbal remedies tend to be far less rigorously studied.
For example, one synthetic compound that has been well-researched is chlorhexidine gluconate which is found in Colgate PerioGard Mouth Rinse and in Colgate Savacol Mouthwash. Another example is cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) which is found in Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash and Colgate Plax Mouthwash. Chlorhexidine gluconate is a powerful antimicrobial agent that is proven to help treat gingivitis. CPC is proven to effectively fight oral bacteria and to significantly reduce plaque, and to help prevent gingivitis.
Explain to your patient that you have an obligation to them to provide and recommend only products that are clinically proven to be safe and effective. It is not necessarily a case of dismissing herbal alternatives; rather it is a case of not yet having the required evidence upon which to base a recommendation.
2. Synthetics are highly standardized
Synthetic compounds are manufactured according to highly standardized operating procedures. In recommending such products, then, we can be assured that the quality, safety and efficacy of each product will be consistent and reliable. On the other hand, with herbals there can be considerable variation, depending on the product. Examples of variables include origins, natural variations in composition, extraction methods and processes.
3. Synthetics are regulated
Synthetics are studied and tested to prove their safety and efficacy, and to identify contraindications and side effects. They must also meet regulatory requirements in terms of how it can be marketed and administered. Thanks to this level of regulation, patients can make informed choices.
4. “Natural” doesn’t always mean safer
People often turn to natural or herbal remedies because they perceive them to be safer than synthetic options. However, comparative statistics for herbal alternatives are hard to come by. That said, natural remedies are certainly not without risk. Even herbs with an excellent safety profile, like ginseng and ginkgo biloba, can be dangerous when used alongside synthetic drugs or compounds. Some can dilute medications, others can increase the potency, and others can cause or exacerbate serious side effects.
Patients should be cautioned that “natural” doesn’t automatically mean “safe”. If the patient is set on using natural remedies, encourage them to do so under your professional guidance.
5. Synthetics are more targeted
Herbal and natural compounds can be milder than their synthetic counterparts, appealing to those who want a “gentle” solution to oral inflammation, and can also be polyfunctional. However, they are also much less specific in their mode of action, often causing a wide array of additional physiological effects. Synthetics, meanwhile, are developed to be highly targeted towards specific conditions such as oral inflammation.
6. Synthetics use cutting-edge biotechnology
Some synthetic technologies are actually designed to mimic the natural processes of the oral cavity. Dual zinc plus arginine (DZA) technology, for example, helps to maintain the natural composition of the oral microbiome, reducing bacterial growth and preventing bacterial colonization of the soft tissues. In doing so, it provides superior protection against biofilm and oral disease, including reductions in plaque and gingivitis, as well as caries and halitosis. You can find DZA technology in Colgate Total Toothpaste in the UK.
It’s not black and white…
Ultimately, the debate between synthetic and natural is not one of good versus bad, healthy versus unhealthy, or safe versus harmful. There is a role for both in managing inflammation and maintaining oral health, with each approach bringing its own strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing is for the patient to be fully educated about the facts of both approaches so that they can make safe and informed decisions about their oral health care. As their trusted partner, you are the perfect person to help them achieve this.
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