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On Trend: Oil Pulling

January 29, 2019


written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist

I may be a little late on reporting the “latest craze” with this one, but here we are. Oil pulling. When I first heard the term, I couldn’t believe it has nothing to do with gas companies or oil rigs. Essentially, oil pulling involves taking a tablespoon of oil (I later learned that coconut oil was the more glamorous option), and swishing it around the mouth for twenty minutes to reap supposed oral health benefits. Most people opt to take up oil pulling in hopes to replace flossing. My thought? I didn’t even know people could hate flossing THAT much.

Oil pulling - The Debtist

Where did oil pulling come from?

Oil pulling has actually been around for centuries. Previously known as “kavala” or “gundusha”, this ancient dental technique has its roots from India. It is believed that the oil is capable of binding to toxins and pulling them out from the body. It was primarily used to improve oral health but has been applied to other aspects of health as well. However, the oil needs to be in contact for long periods of time in order for it to have an effect, hence the twenty minutes of swishing.

Supposed benefits

The internet is teeming with a number of supposed health benefits to oil pulling. It seems that there are many advocates for this holistic trend spanning social media websites. Below is a list of benefits that I found people were claiming this new trend has to offer.

  • whiter teeth
  • cavity/gingivitis prevention
  • better breath
  • stronger teeth and gums
  • less jaw pain, sleep problems, and sinus issues
  • alleviation of headaches, hangovers and skin issues

My Personal Perspective

No offense, but my first non-filtered reaction was “uhm, ew?!” Just the thought of swishing a tablespoon (why so much?!) of coconut oil around made me shudder. Coconut oil at room temperature is SOLID, and it takes a while for the oil to melt in your mouth due to body heat. Taste and texture definitely makes or breaks the practice, and while they say you can use other plant-based, cold-pressed, organic oils such as sunflower oil, sesame oil and olive oil, I do agree that coconut seems to be the most … manageable? Don’t get me wrong, I love those oils in my salads and I’ve been known to make a famous chocolate chip cookie recipe using coconut oil, but letting them sit in my mouth is just not the same thing. Of course, curiosity kills the cat, and I did try it out for myself. Verdict? As predicted, I was not able to cope. I could hardly keep the oil in my mouth for longer than a few seconds! Forget about twenty minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder, is flossing SO bad that one needs to spend twenty minutes of their day oil pulling instead of flossing for two?! I know, I know, I’m biased. But STILL. I say, more power to the people who are able to do oil pulling successfully once, let alone three to four times a week. Plus, if it were all true and the oils do bind to microbes, hypothetically after twenty minutes of swishing, pushing and pulling that oil into all the gingival crevices of your mouth, you’ve essentially got a wad of bacteria. And still swishing…which to me, seems a bit gross. And that’s coming from a DENTIST!

Oil pulling - The Debtist

My Professional Opinion

There is little formal trial data that supports any of the health benefits claimed by oil pulling. While it may be true that oil pulling pulls toxins out of the body, we must remember that causes of cavities and gingival disease involve acid produced by bacteria, not toxins. Therefore, the pulling of toxins does not necessarily have anything to do with cavity prevention. Some may argue that vitamin E resides in coconut oil which have antibacterial properties, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Vitamin E does not select for the bad bacteria and may actually be doing as much damage if it is also removing the good bacteria. Our oral biome consists of both the good and bad, and if we take away good bacteria, we will give the bad bacteria an opportunity to thrive. Because Vitamin E isn’t proven to be selective for removing only the bad bacteria, I don’t think this argument suffices for supporting that oil pulling reduces cavities and gingival disease. Lastly, some people claim that oil pulling is as effective as chlorhexidine in treating bad breath, but may I suggest that swishing WATER around for twenty minutes would result in better breath too…

I am not here to completely shut down the idea of oil pulling. But I am here to say that there is not enough scientific evidence to support this ancient dental technique. There are studies, but most have been found to have flaws in their methods. I would still consider oil pulling as a possible supplement to brushing and flossing, but not a complete replacement. As of now, the American Dental Association has deemed insufficient clinical research to support oil pulling as a stand alone preventative treatment that works. Sorry, but yes this means that you still need to floss. Yes, you can roll your eyes at me.

Giving Oil Pulling a Try? Things You Should Know:

If you are going to try oil pulling, may I recommend the following?

  • Still floss! Just as water flossers cannot fully replace flossing, any oil you swish in your mouth cannot get in between tooth contacts!
  • Swish gently. Twenty minutes is a very long time and vigorous swishing can result in jaw pain and tension. Headaches have been reported as a side effect of oil pulling, which can be due to the stresses placed on the temporal muscles. Headaches are also common in clenchers and grinders who undergo similar long periods of muscle tension. Take it easy, take it slow.
  • Do not swallow the oil. If the point is to bind to toxins, we do not want to ingest all those toxins you’ve collected by swishing the oil around.
  • Once you are finished, spit the oil into the trash, not the sink. Oils can clog up the sink’s drain pipes, and explaining to the plumber why you’ve got clogged pipes will surely be interesting.
  • Brush as you normally would after a session of oil pulling. I would feel much better knowing that you’ve removed all the oil after the swishing, just in case. Plus, I am sure brushing will help to remove that slimy, oily feel and taste that I just couldn’t take. I guarantee your cup of coffee would taste much better if it wasn’t chasing coconut oil from a morning’s session of oil pulling, wouldn’t you agree?

We’ve partnered with Samantha Tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in Southern California, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. When she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as TheDebtist. Aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) roughly translates to “coziness” in English, and those in Denmark have cultivated an entire season around it.

This year, why not try to do as the Danes do and focus on doing things that bring you joy?

Here are some guidelines to embrace hygge in its fullest:

1. Take a break from your phone. You're not missing anything, trust me! Unplug and enjoy an IRL conversation with family or friends and live in the moment.

2. Go outside, even if it's cold. I get it, it's chilly! But getting out in nature and getting a little vitamin D will definitely make you feel better (and also make you appreciate those cozy blankets back at home!). Build a snowman, shovel a neighbor's walk, or take a walk with a hot drink.

3. Build a fire in your fireplace or light some candles. Create some ambiance! Lowering the lights and enjoying the natural glow of a fire will make you feel miles away from any troubles.

4. Indulge a bit! Enjoy some baked goods, a hot drink, and relax. No further explanation needed.

5. Spend time with those you love. Here in the US, the holidays can feel overwhelming, but remember to take a breather from shopping and checking things off your to do list and cozy up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good conversation.


written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist

Myth 01: “Brushing Hard Helps”

Growing up, I was always told to brush my teeth every night. But how to do so? As an avid rule follower and extremely prudent child, I sought out any tips in preventing the dreaded sugar bugs. Unfortunately, the only advice that most adults had to give was to brush twice a day, and hard, in order to remove all of the plaque on my teeth. If I had any left-over gunk at the end of brushing, it must have been because I didn’t brush hard enough. Today, we know that brushing hard does more damage than good, but do you know why?

Good for Teeth, Not for Gums

I do admit that harder pressures are better at mechanically removing plaque and debris than softer pressures. And a tooth is a very sturdy thing, able to withstand stiff bristles and manually applied forces. However, we must remember that the teeth are surrounded by pink soft stuffs, known as gums, which aren’t as resistant to pressures. Brushing really hard, especially in left-to-right motions as we were previously taught, can lead to gum loss, in a process called gingival recession.

What is Recession?

Gingival recession occurs when gums move away from your tooth. Your gums experience wear and soft tissue is prone to the damaging effects of heavy brushing. Consider gum recession as your body’s way of protecting itself by retreating. Over time, gum tissue disappears, and less and less gums surround your teeth. Unfortunately, once gum recedes, it does not grow back without surgical dental procedures.

How Does this Affect Teeth?

What does gum health have to do with teeth health? Well, they are all inter-related. The gums are part of the structure that holds your teeth in place and keep the teeth stable. As you experience gum loss, multiple things can happen. First, you are losing the protective barrier around your teeth. Severe gum loss leads to exposure of your tooth’s roots. Unlike the rest of your tooth, the roots are not covered by a enamel layer. Therefore, the outside of your roots are closer to the nerves, and experience more sensitivity to things such as sweets, hot and cold temperatures, and movement. You may find eating ice cream a suddenly unpleasurable experience!

What’s more, as gums recede, there is an increased chance of food getting stuck in between your teeth. The space that gums once occupied is now empty, allowing for more food to be trapped every time you eat. Difficulty in keeping the areas around your teeth clean can lead to constant inflammation, your body’s way of fighting off anything it deems foreign. This can lead to gum disease, thereby causing further bone loss and gum loss! And the cycle continues.

The Right Way to Brush

Knowing all of this, we need to switch up our brushing techniques. Here are a few tips on how to brush successfully, without doing any harm.

  • Use a soft or very soft bristled toothbrush. I would avoid medium and hard bristled toothbrushes entirely.
  • Hold the brush like a flute. You’ll soon realize that there is very little force that can be applied when you hold it in this manner.
  • Point the toothbrush at the gums at a 45-degree angle.
  • Brush in circles or in small, vibrational motions. You never want to brush left-to-right.
  • Spend 3-5 seconds per tooth, vibrating the toothbrush around the gum line. Do the same with each tooth, and don’t forget to swing around to the back of each tooth. A person who has all their teeth should take about 2 minutes to brush.
  • If you own an electric toothbrush that already does the vibrations for you, don’t push down. You can still hold it like a flute and you should still angle it at a 45-degree angle. You simply need to hold it in this way over each tooth for 5 seconds, and your brush will do all the work for you. The worst thing you can do with an electric toothbrush is to use it the same way you would a manual toothbrush. There is such a thing as too much.

With these helpful tips, hopefully you can enjoy eating ice cream and drinking hot tea for a very long time.

Samantha Tillapaugh AKA The Debtist

We’ve partnered with Samantha Tillapaugh, a general dentist practicing in Southern California, to help spread the word about all cool things dental. When she isn’t sharing informative posts about teeth with us, she is writing at her own lifestyle blog as TheDebtist. Aside from writing, she travels the world, reads plenty of books sidled up next to her adopted, toothless cat, bakes sourdough bread and works as a tooth-fairy.

Your minimal holiday guide

November 26, 2018

Do you love the holidays but also want to maintain a minimal lifestyle? We’ve got you covered!

Get inspired by nature.

Minimal holiday decor

Pine cones can be strung into a decorative wall hanging, or you can use branches from your Christmas tree to make your own wreath or garland. Plus, it will smell amazing! 


Minimal holiday decor

Use what you already have at home to display those holiday cards that start rolling in this time of year. Don't have any boards like they do in this photo? Use some string along a blank wall to display them.

Use what you have.

Minimal holiday decor

This time of year usually means excess. It doesn't have to be, though! Use things you already have to add some flair to your home. Use sticks and string to make a 2D tree along your wall or make a wall hanging like this one. 


Minimal holiday decor

Feeling crafty? Paint your own tiny wooden trees! A little gold paint goes a long way in adding festive cheer. What if you don't have tiny wooden trees just lying around? Try filling a vase with Christmas ornaments you already have, or stringing holiday lights around your living room. It will feel magical. :)

Make sure it brings you joy. 

Minimal holiday decor

It's easy to get overwhelmed during the holidays. Take a breath, remind yourself what the season is really about (Togetherness! Kindness!), and choose the things that will bring you happiness.

Need more minimal holiday decor inspiration? Read the full article on Elle Decor.

Bruxism (aka teeth grinding)

November 01, 2018

written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist

We all have habits and tendencies. I’d be the first to admit that some of them are not good - such as always needing to eat a sliver of dessert after dinner, or never drying our good knives after washing them. I have a history of even worse habits during my teen years, such as chewing my nails, or chewing on the caps of pens, neither of which are good for my teeth. But like most habits, these I have direct control over, and I can change them whenever I so please, like when chewing on your nails turned from cool to gross. Unfortunately, there are some habits that are subconscious, and therefore much more difficult to break. An example of such a habit is teeth grinding, otherwise known as bruxism.

I am a heavy bruxor, meaning that I have the tendency to grind my teeth at night. Like so many others, it was undiagnosed until I landed myself in a dental chair due to a painful ache on my lower left tooth. I was prepared for a root canal and a crown, convinced that something this painful must be caused by a severe infection involving hateful bacterial species. So I was surprised when my co-worker showed me the x-ray and there was an absence of any signs of decay. Wait, then was going on?


Bruxism is the subconscious habit of grinding your teeth. It is also considered a sleep-movement disorder. It is not uncommon for people who have other sleep disorders (such as snoring or sleep apnea) to grind their teeth as well. While some people grind their teeth from side to side, others chomp and chew, and yet others, like myself, clench really, really hard. It has even been reported by loved ones that their partner’s grinding habits are so loud it keeps them up at night! However, most people who grind their teeth are undiagnosed until they start to experience pain. The pain can be anything from mild to severe, and can be persistent or transient. Sometimes, bruxism is so severe that it causes to the teeth to fracture! This can then cause you to lose your tooth, depending on how it breaks. In order to prevent this from happening to you, it’s important to be aware of the most common signs and symptoms, as well as to try and protect your teeth from the effects of heavy grinding.


Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs and symptoms for bruxism, and they are different for every person. The severity depends on the frequency, duration, and weight of your bruxing habits.

Common sign and symptoms include:

  • Abfraction Lesions – These look like little chipping of your teeth around the gum line. Teeth are anchored in the jaw, and when we clench and grind, we are causing these teeth to flex in all sorts of directions. As they flex, the part of the tooth closest to the gumline (where it is most tightly anchored) experiences the most stress, causing these areas to be prone to chipping.
  • Flat Occlusion – As we grind our teeth, we are slowly grinding away at the top portion of the enamel. Eventually, heavy bruxism may lead to completely flat teeth.
  • Fractured Teeth – Under the stresses of grinding and clenching, part of the tooth itself can give way and fracture. Teeth with large existing fillings are more prone to fracturing than a complete tooth or a tooth with a crown. When we start to see the first signs of cracking or microfracture, we want to take precaution and monitor the tooth closely. Sometimes, it may be beneficial to remove the cracked portion and place a crown, to help prevent any unpredictable and unfavorable fractures in the future.
  • White Lines Inside the Cheeks – Look inside your cheek to see if there is a white striation. These are formed from the repetitive sucking motion related to teeth clenching and grinding.
  • Tight or Tired Jaw Muscles – It may be that you are spending the entire night working your jaw left and right. Your jaw joints may then get tired, or feel very tight. If you ever wake up in the morning with a soreness in your jaws, you may have just experienced a night of heavy grinding!
  • Tooth Pain or Sensitivity – Teeth can experience sensitivity to hot, cold, or pressure if they are continually experiencing trauma from bruxism. There are nerves running to each tooth, and repetitive trauma to the tooth can cause these nerves to become hypersensitive. If treated right away, the hypersensitivity can be reversible.
  • Migraines and earaches – The nerves that innervate your teeth run up along the sides of your head. If they are hypersensitive, they can also cause migraines and earaches.
  • Sleep Disruption – Some people wake up in the middle of the night due to the sounds of bruxism. Others awaken due to aches and pains. Untreated bruxism can definitely take away a good night’s rest!

Causes of Teeth Grinding

The exact cause of bruxism is difficult to pinpoint. It could be a myriad of factors, so it’s important to evaluate whether any of the following apply to you.

  • Stress or Anxiety – The most common cause of teeth grinding is stress. I will always ask my patients if they are experiencing any stressful events in their lives lately when they report bruxism. Most people identify a difficult time at home, or a job change, or a recent move. Identifying the cause of stress and trying to manage or decrease it is really helpful in treating bruxism!
  • Abnormal Bite – Children often time experience grinding when their teeth first erupt and again when their adult teeth start to erupt. Sometimes they outgrow it, and sometimes they don’t. I have also noticed that bruxism is more common when people are missing teeth. A theory would be that an abnormal bite or a bad occlusion can lead to grinding.
  • Side Effects of Medications – Some medications are known to cause grinding. If you have recently started taking a new medication, ask your doctor whether grinding could be a possible side effect. Antidepressants, for example, have been shown to cause grinding.
  • Weight Gain and Sleep Disorders – Recent weight gain can make breathing more difficult when one is sleeping. Soft tissues around the neck and throat tends to push downward when we are lying down, thus obstructing the airway. This can lead to a number of sleep disorders, including snoring, sleep apnea, and grinding!

How to Protect Your Teeth from Grinding

There are many ways to protect our teeth! Unfortunately, since grinding is subconscious, eliminating the habit can be very near impossible to do. Therefore, we must find other ways to help prevent further wear and tear on our pearly whites!

  • Wear a Night Guard

Getting a night-guard is the best way to protect your teeth from the effects of bruxism. Since bruxism is a subconscious habit, it can be difficult to catch yourself doing it, let alone to stop yourself from grinding or clenching. A night guard is a protective plastic piece that sits on either your upper teeth or on your lower teeth. The plastic piece acts as a barrier between upper and lower teeth while you are grinding, so that you are not placing as much forces on your teeth and you aren’t wearing them down. The upper night guard works really well, but can feel very bulky for some. The lower night guard is a much more comfortable fit for first time users. You have the option of either buying universal night guards over-the-counter or making a custom-fit night guard with your dentist. Off course, the custom-fit night guard will protect your teeth better, but I can understand if you don’t want to spend that much money until you’ve tried an over-the-counter one to see if you can tolerate sleeping with a night guard. It will take awhile for you to get used to! It took me about two weeks. One thing is for sure: Once I started wearing my night guard, the pain went away. And if I ever forget, the pain will come back, which shows me that the night guard is doing its job!

  • Reduce Stress

There are many ways to reduce stress. I was first diagnosed with bruxism during dental school, which no doubt was a very stressful time. I find that I clench my teeth while I work or concentrate on something. When I involve myself in stress-reducing practices, I find that I clench less. Below are some ways to alleviate stress or anxiety.

    • Avoid stressful activities an hour before bed.
    • Drink caffeine-free tea in the evening after dinner.
    • Avoid screens in the last hour before bed. Try reading a book instead, or listening to calming music.
    • Choose exercises such as yoga in the late evenings, rather than hitting the gym and working out.
    • Write positive events or affirmations down. Gratitude has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety levels greatly. Try a 5-minute journal.
    • Spend time with your family, friends, or pet.
    • Practice deep breathing, and letting thoughts go.
  • Lose Weight

If you’ve recently gained weight and have noticed that you started grinding your teeth, try to get back to your previous weight. As mentioned above, weight gain is a common cause of grinding. Many patients have found success in decreasing bruxism by simply losing weight.

  • Regular Dental Visits

Regular dental visits are important when you grind your teeth. Make sure your dentist knows of your bruxism. They will be able to detect early signs of tooth fracture. When you start to see a hairline fracture, it shows that your tooth is giving way underneath all those chewing forces. You want to treat a small fracture with caution. It may be that a crown will be needed in the near future to cover the tooth and help protect it. A small crack can grow into a big one, and there is never any telling when and how a tooth will break. Sometimes, a tooth breaks and we can save it with a filling, a crown, and/or a root canal. However, other times, it breaks in a completely unfavorable way, and you may end up losing your teeth. Speak with your dentist about the best preventative practices you can engage in to save your teeth!

The Debtist

Samantha Tillapaugh is a practicing general dentist in Orange County, CA and is a lifestyle blogger at

Are you, too, a sparkling water addict? Do you sip your bubbly water throughout the day, smugly reminding yourself that you're getting your 8 glasses of water a day and actually loving it?

What's your favorite flavor? Maybe it's coconut or orange vanilla (my personal favorite) or black cherry - there's almost too many delicious options to choose from. 

I have sad news out there for all you fellow addicts - flavored sparkling water is damaging your teeth. 

COME AGAIN, you say?

The breakdown is this: the flavor in your sparkling water is mostly citric and other fruit acids, which can cause tooth erosion (which can eventually cause your teeth to be hypersensitive to temperature and more cavity-prone). 

Basically, the more acidic a drink is, the greater the threat to your pearly whites. Anything less than a pH of 4 is considered detrimental to your teeth, and the flavors are the culprit. Plain sparkling water has a pH of 5, which is totally fine - drink that plain sparkling water all day! Once flavor is added, all bets are off, and you're better off only having these as a "treat." 


Acidic bottled water

(Bottled beverages under the red portion fall within an acidic pH range; beverages under the blue portion are within a basic pH range. From the Journal of Dental Hygiene)

The bottom line: flavored sparkling water is still way better to drink than soda, but should still be considered a treat. Regular water or plain sparkling water are better options. 

I know this is hard to read, but over time, you'll adjust. I promise.

Interested in learning more? Check out the original article here.

written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist

Child raising is no easy task, especially if you’re a first-time parent. Despite all the advice that friends, family, and well-wishers throw at you, it seems that none of them actually work in terms of making the job easier. I’m sure you’re frantically trying to find space in your hectic schedule to get a bathroom break in peace, let alone a wink of sleep! So of course, I understand the look you’re going to give me when I tell you that somewhere in between the baby bottle juggling and the diaper toss, you’ve got to schedule your child’s first dental visit, too. A look that’s mixed between, “Can you not see I’m busy drowning in to do lists?” and “Why don’t you try your hand at this?” As if you don’t already have enough advice being thrown at you left and right, a few words on a child’s first dental visit:


A child’s first baby tooth appears around 6 months old. Typically, it will be one of the lower two front teeth. Look out for it, although I am sure your little one will let you know it’s coming as they’re gnawing away at all those teething toys, or in some cases, whatever they can get their mouths on. Some might wail as a precautionary measure to warn you that it’s teething time! If the tooth comes earlier or later than 6 months, don’t be alarmed! It is considered normal to be within 3 months of the scheduled timeline. It is important to remember that some babies have a head start, and others are late bloomers. The eruption of the first baby tooth is the first sign that your child should see their dentist. It is recommended that a child establishes their “dental home” no later than a year after their birth. The sooner, the better - here’s why!


When it comes to teeth, we can get behind creating good dental habits early on. It is best if a child establishes a dental home at a young age for multiple reasons.

  • To check and maintain a healthy oral cavity: It’s obvious that there is tooth decay when a tooth has turned black. Anyone can diagnose that. Unfortunately, by that point, it may be too late! Most tooth decay detected by our eyes have already been present for a long time! We recommend seeing your child every six months as soon as the first tooth erupts, so that we can spot problems early on! Maybe our exams will be limited until your child is old enough to take radiographs, but an exam is still better than nothing at all! Let’s be proactive with our dental care!
  • To develop good oral hygiene habits: When your little one is six months old, the people dentists really want to talk to are the parents. As parents, you will have to guide your child toward good, daily oral hygiene habits. Sometimes, that means holding their hand and doing the brushing for them until they are five years old! We know that they will want to grow up fast but we want them to grow up WITH TEETH! So don’t let them go on their own too early. If your child insists, maybe give them time to brush on their own, and then immediately afterwards, follow up by re-brushing their teeth. Your dentist should be willing to go over some tips if you’re having difficulty with your child’s brushing tendencies. I am sure you have a lot of questions, so do not hesitate to ask your dentist on these visits. Plus, the more times your child gets their cleanings, the more opportunities the dentist has to inform them on ways they can improve, too!
  • To become familiar with the family dentist and dental procedures: Dental procedures can be seen as scary to kids, no thanks to the bright lights, loud sounds, and perception in the media. But they shouldn’t be! We want kids to be familiar with going to the dentist. We want appointments to be fun! And we want to make check-ups easy for them. You know the saying: practice makes perfect. The more times they see the dentist, the more comfortable they will be.
  • To avoid fear of the dentist: Humans, especially little ones, fear the unknown. By developing a dental home early on, a child can become more comfortable with the dentist and will start to see check-ups as part of a routine. When you start to brush your child’s teeth, at first they will resist. But after many practice runs, much resistance, and possibly battle scars, they will soon accept it as a part of life. That’s the same with the dental visit (minus the battle scars!).

Things to Expect:

The first dental visit is not going to be perfect. But it establishes the start of what will be a great relationship between your child and their dentist. Here are some things that you might need to prepare yourself for.

  • The first dental visit will be a visual exam. At six months old, we are not going to take radiographs, a fact you probably already knew. “So what’s the point?”, you may ask. The first visit is usually a visual exam. Meaning, we have your child open their mouth and take a peek at their brand new chompers. If we can get a dental instrument in there to feel the surfaces for any ‘holes’ or ‘soft spots’ that might indicate a cavity, then great! If not, then there is always the next visit. What we really want to accomplish is the familiarity of going to the dentist. Good habits are easier developed early on.
  • Your child may cry. Let’s face it. Everything at the dental office is completely alien to your little one. There’s a lot of stimulation going on and your child may not like it. So, they cry. Well, crying is actually good, because I can stick my head in their tiny mouths and peer at their teeth, mid-cry. Sometimes, that’s better than fighting with a child to open their mouth. If your child cries, do not immediately assume it’s related to trauma or pain. And please do not stop coming to the dentist. As mentioned before, the more they get used to coming in, the more cooperative they’ll be in future visits.
  • Nothing may get done. If the baby or child is not cooperative AND does not cry, then it’d be pretty difficult to take a look at their teeth. No worries! Let’s just call this an introductory visit! “Here’s the dentist, your new friend!” “Nice to meet you, little one! Next time, you are going to do so great, we just know it!”
  • We have to be patient: We don’t want your child to have a traumatic experience, because that can affect their perception of dental procedures and can keep them away from their six month check ups when they grow older. We want the experience to be positive, therefore, forcing a child to cooperate is not the best way to go. We can always try again next time. If there IS treatment that needs to be done, but your child stops cooperating, there are also other things we can do, such as refer to a pediatric dentist (also known as a pedodontist) who specializes in working with children!

So there you have it! Now you are equipped with the to-dos and the whys and the hows. If you can find time to establish a dental home for your child early on, you and your child will have an easier time as your child gets older. Hopefully this advice helps you sleep soundly at night too, knowing that their teeth are in good hands!

The Debtist

Samantha Tillapaugh is a practicing general dentist in Orange County, CA and is a lifestyle blogger at

written by Jordyn Meskan of NDSU's Engineers Without Borders

The project

Three years. Three years of project design and re-design. Three years of fundraising. Three years of planning and project coordination. Three years is the amount of time that passed since I was last in Las Tablitas, Guatemala with my Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter. 

As a senior Civil Engineering student at North Dakota State University (NDSU), I've been blessed with the opportunity to be an active member of our EWB Chapter since my freshman year. EWB is an organization that partners with communities in developing countries to design and build infrastructure projects. Each chapter works with a community for a series of five projects. This creates a partnership with a community, building trust, friendships, and successes between the EWB chapter and the community. Our partner community is Las Tablitas, a small mountainside village in Guatemala.  

The past three years were filled with preparing for our fifth and final project with Las Tablitas: a new community center. Due to the size and scope of this project, our team decided to split it into two phases. Phase I consisted of the demolition of the existing structure at the project site, installation of a water line to bring water to the facility, and digging the cesspool. Phase II consists of the construction of the walls and roof, installation of the solar panels and electrical system, and connecting the plumbing into the sanitation system. The community intends to use the new facility as a place to hold community meetings, where women can go give birth, and a place volunteer medical teams can come in and provide care. 

NDSU + Bogobrush

Las Tablitas

Mid-May I had the opportunity to travel to Las Tablitas for ten days with six of my classmates and one professional mentor to implement Phase I of our project. Nothing could have compared the energy and excitement we had the night before our flight left! With many nights in the lab working well into the wee hours of the morning, countless fundraising phone calls, travel prep meetings, and the stress of school on top our EWB responsibilities, many of us found that there was no time for excitement. In fact, the final weeks leading up to our departure consisted of dead week (also known as the week that all professors choose to have their term projects and final assignments due) and finals week. The Saturday immediately after the finals week was full of commencement festivities of which four of our travel team members graduated (not me, I get to do a partial victory lap). Then on Sunday we waved goodbye to Fargo and headed to Minneapolis to catch our 5:45 AM flight on Monday morning. Basically 2.5+ weeks prior to our departure were so busy we didn't have time to get excited, so all that excitement was funneled into the night before our flight (Mother’s Day), and it was awesome.  

Fast forward a few days and we were riding up a bumpy gravel road to the little mountain village that captured my heart three years ago. My excitement riding up to the project site was mixed with a little nervousness and what ifs... What if our project design doesn't work? What if we don't live up to the community's expectations? What if conditions are worse than we thought? What if we weren't properly prepared? These were all running through my head as I bounced in the back seat of the van.  

NDSU + Bogobrush

From the classroom to the real world

While we’ve learned how to solve problems in class, how to effectively use our resources, and which computers in the computer lab were reliable, our course work didn't exactly teach us how to design a community center on the side of the mountain in Guatemala... and then proceed to oversee the construction of it. We were relying solely on our internship experiences, my memory from the implementation trip I went on three years ago, knowledge of the locals helping with the construction, our translator, and probably the heaviest on our professional mentor. Heck, we owe a lot to our professional mentor. His expertise and experience back home and his numerous visits to Las Tablitas helped guide us through the construction phase.  

The week proceeded with lots of digging. And by digging, I mean pickaxing through bedrock. The area we were digging for the cesspool had a thin layer of soil on top, and then solid rock. While this threw a wrench into our plans, the community and our team took it in good stride, adjusted project plans to account for the existing conditions. All in all, I was pleased with the progress we made throughout the trip.  

I was incredibly grateful for all the community members that helped with the construction of this part of the project. There were times I was digging part of the trench for the water line or pickaxing at the cesspool pit, and a local would offer to take over for me. Perhaps they were just taking pity on me for the little progress I seemed to be making...or maybe they pitied my poor technique!  

Befriending the locals

One day myself and another team member needed to hike through the brush and partway up the mountainside to document the conditions of the water tank. It was just the two of us, and we were relying on our memories. Turns out our memories didn't do their job, and we took the wrong fork in the trail landing us in a family's back yard. After a little discussion with the mother, she directed us in the general direction of the water tank. As we continued in the general direction, Eduardo, a local man, found us and personally led us to the water tank. Along the way he filled us in with information about how well the tank was functioning and showed us another spring nearby. We were so grateful for his willingness to help. Although we didn't know our exact route to the water tank, my confidence was boosted when we were able to successfully carry a conversation about the tank in Spanish 

NDSU x Bogobrush

During construction, kids were running around all the time playing with us. They were even picking up shovels and pickaxes and jumping in to help. Necessary work breaks were required to play with the kids, chat with them in broken Spanish, and to lather up with sunscreen. If we weren't enjoying time with the kids, we were taking in the views. Seriously, our project site was the prettiest project site I've ever been on. Situated on the side of the mountain, we could look down and see the beautiful blue water of Lago de Izabal and the stunning mountains on the other side.  


The project eventually was at a point where our team was getting in the way more than helping, so we had a couple free afternoons of site seeing and getting a good feel for the region. We took an afternoon boat ride from Rio Dulce over to Livingston and the Amatique Bay off the Caribbean Sea. It was so beautiful! Another afternoon went to El Boquerón, which was a canyon in the mountains with a river running through it. A giant canoe brought our team up river a little, then we were free to swim upstream until we reached a beautiful waterfall.  

Even with our mini excursions, my favorite day was the Sunday of our trip. It was scheduled as a day of rest. The morning began at Agua Caliente, a hot spring-fed waterfall that merged with another small river. We swam for the morning and jumped off the top of a waterfall, climbed rocks, and hiked to the source of the hot spring. After a quick lunch in nearby El Estor, we road in the back of the pickup up the mountainside to Las Tablitas 

Community building

The community gathered for a town meeting with our team at the project site. I was elected by our team to address the community regarding project updates alongside one of the other team members. The meeting served as an opportunity to thank the community for their support, discuss the progress and plans moving forward, and answer any concerns community members had about the project. This was the first time in my life in which my message was translated from English to Spanish to Q'eqchi', a local indigenous language many of the locals speak. It was SO COOL! While I'd like to think my Spanish was decent, there was no way I could have effectively expressed how grateful we were for the community's support and hospitality smoothly in Spanish. But, it was really cool to listen to how it was translated into Spanish, and then again into a language I knew so little about! 

NDSU x Bogobrush

To top things off, the afternoon in the village wasn't even over at the conclusion of the meeting. We headed over to the soccer field a little ways down the road, with over 50 kids excitedly jumping in the back of the pick up and running behind to catch up. If you're wondering how many little Guatemalan kids can fit in the back of a pickup, the answer is 23 kids... you know, in case you were trying to do the math in your head. 

With the huge group of kids all gathered at the soccer field, the kids lined up in two lines, one full of the boys and one full of the girls. The kids knew they were getting small gifts, but they didn't know what they were. They were so excited with smiles as wide as the soccer field we were on. One by one we passed out new toothbrushes and pencils to the children. Our chapter teamed up with Bogobrush to bring 93 completely biodegradable toothbrushes to Las Tablitas 

The importance of oral hygiene

Oral hygiene is something that often gets overlooked in developing communities, and Las Tablitas was no exception. There were many kids with rotting teeth, some even under the age of five. Through conversation with our in-country partners, Centro Cristiano Cultural de Guatemala (CCCG), we learned that many these kids were the first generation of this community learning about the importance of brushing their teeth. Their parents and grandparents never brushed their teeth, and so oral hygiene was never practiced. CCCG regularly works in Las Tablitasand has been working hard to teach the children about oral hygiene. After each kid was stocked with a toothbrush and pencil, everyone circled up and turned their attention to one of our team members and our translators, of whom gave an excellent lesson on how to properly brush their teeth. The kidlaughed when the lesson leaders got to the step on spitting out the toothpaste after brushing for a little while. Giggles and laughs proceeded even after the lesson was over, as all the kids took time to practice using their toothbrushes—minus the toothpaste!  NDSU + Bogobrush

We wrapped up the afternoon running around playing soccer, with multiple matches going on at the same time. In true North Dakotan fashion, we taught some of the girls how to swing dance (country swing, of course). Some of the girls enjoyed braiding our hair too! When the time came to leave, it was bittersweet. I felt a feeling of sadness wash over me as we left Las Tablitas for potentially the last time ever. However, I was pleased with the progress we made on the project, the relationships we built with the community members and kids, and the memories we made.  

Conducting the community meeting, the smiles on the children's faces after receiving the toothbrushes and pencils, and an afternoon of fun on the field made for the perfect ending to our time in Las Tablitas. The opportunity to work on a real-world project as college students was incredibly rewarding. Taking part in the implementation of the project and meeting the people it affected... that was the icing on the cake. A lot can happen in three years. Three years of working on this project made the return to Las Tablitas worth the wait... and let me tell you, it was so worth the wait. 

NDSU + Bogobrush

For more information about our chapter and our partnership with Las Tablitas, click here! I also invite you to "Like" our page on Facebook to follow our chapter updates. 

Engineers Without Borders is an organization that partners with developing communities around the world to design and develop sustainable infrastructure projects. The North Dakota State University chapter is comprised of students of all engineering backgrounds. They have been working with the small mountainside community of Las Tablitas in Guatemala since 2011.

Jordyn Meskan is a senior Civil Engineering student at North Dakota State University. Recently she finished her term as president of the North Dakota State University chapter during the 2017-2018 school year.


written by Samantha Tillapaugh from The Debtist

Charcoal sure is getting quite the attention these days. It seems that this granulated, activated, ashy celebrity has stolen the spotlight. Instagram is ablaze with picture-worthy activated charcoal-containing foods, such as black scoops of ice-cream atop waffle cones, and seeded black hamburger buns on either side of a beef patty. This ‘coconut ash’ also has been praised to bind toxic drugs and chemicals in the body due to its negative charge, thus pulling out toxins before the stomach can digest them. (Someone has yet to start an all-charcoal diet.)

For similar reasons, bits of charcoal are also being integrated into beauty products in the effort to bind dirt and oils. I’ve seen humans who look like panda bears, mid-exfoliation. Pretty cute. And don’t think I didn’t consider for a moment the use of charcoal sticks in lieu of a water filtration system. In a crazed effort to eliminate plastic use completely while not being open to drinking unfiltered water, I myself fell down a charcoal-obsessed rabbit hole internet search. Drop a stick of charcoal in a jug of water, wait a few hours, and voila!

While I have nothing at all to say about any of these aforementioned things, (except maybe to note that charcoal ice cream temporarily stains your teeth the same color as the pint), I do have a few things to say when it comes to this much celebrated charcoal entering our toothpastes.

Why Put Charcoal in Toothpaste?

Have you seen videos of people brushing their teeth with black globs of sticky stuff and wondered to yourself, “Why put charcoal in toothpaste?” This is especially interesting after divulging the fact that a first date could be complicated by stained teeth from trying charcoal ice cream with a potential future life partner. What would brushing with charcoal before a first date do to you teeth?

Since activated charcoal can bind to things due to its micro-porous nature, it seems that some are of the mind that it can also bind plaque and bacteria and tartar. There is the added benefit of whiter teeth, as well. So, why don’t we dig deeper about these two topics?

Does Charcoal Like Bacteria?

Not any more than we do! Activated charcoal is porous in nature. The thinking behind removing bacteria with activated charcoal is that plaque and micro-organisms will be caught in the pores of the charcoal particles, and thus be removed. Possible, but it seems that it does this at a similar rate as regular old toothpaste would. So, no, there is no special binding relationship between the new celeb and our bacteria.

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Detoxify?

There isn’t much claim about the detoxifying nature of charcoal toothpaste. The gums and teeth are not at all similar to your liver and kidneys, which take on the job of clearing your body of toxins. Because of this, the charcoal in toothpaste is not exactly detoxifying your body of anything. Of the same token, for those who are using charcoal toothpaste and are concerned about the charcoal affecting your current medications, rest assured that the charcoal is not in contact with the medications in your digestive tract and therefore has no effect. Unless, off course, you are swallowing the toothpaste rather than spitting it out.

Does Charcoal Actually Make Teeth Whiter?

The simple answer is, “Yes it does”. Bizarre that you can brush with black to make them white! Charcoal is effective in removing surface stains, which isn’t exactly equated to whitening teeth. Surface stains are extrinsic staining on the teeth due to a coffee drinking habit, or the occasional red wine indulgence. These stains reside on the enamel layer which happens to also be the outermost layer of your tooth. Typically, other ‘whitening’ toothpastes remove these stains as well.

However, this isn’t to be equated with whitening teeth. Your teeth can also have intrinsic stains, either caused by trauma, certain medications, weak enamel, or excess fluoride use. These intrinsic stains cannot be removed by toothpaste, with or without charcoal, primarily because the toothpaste will never reach these stains. Whitening of intrinsic staining can only occur from bleaching treatments (whether that’s in-office or over-the-counter) that penetrate past the enamel. But if you wish to use charcoal toothpaste to help reduce stains due to a cold brew habit, then charcoal toothpaste will suffice.

Should We Be Wary of Charcoal Toothpaste?

Unfortunately, charcoal is abrasive. Part of what makes it so good at removing extrinsic stains is the fact that it is rough and can rub off discolorations that are stuck in the pores of your teeth (teeth are porous too!). However, the concern is that charcoal acts like sandpaper rubbing against your teeth. Anyone who has consumed or brushed with charcoal will know the grainy feeling it leaves in your mouth. Like sandpaper, repetitive use of the stuff can abrade parts of the outer enamel layer. The enamel is the strongest part of our bodies (stronger than bone!) and our teeth need it as protection. Removal of the enamel layer will weaken the tooth and cause hypersensitivity. You know those electrifying ‘zings’ you feel after a tooth whitening session? Imagine a permanent version of that if the enamel is removed. Yikes!

Ironically, too, the removal of enamel makes the teeth even more prone to staining for future years to come. Enamel is definitely something we want to protect. If you are planning on using charcoal toothpaste, then consider brushing lightly and gently.

Also, before you declutter your regular toothpaste, may I suggest alternating your charcoal toothpaste with the regular one? Like all trends, charcoal coolness may fade, and you may be once again reaching for your trusty familiar toothpaste brand. At the very least, the alternation will help reduce abrasion to your beautiful, pearly whites. Plus, most charcoal toothpastes do not have fluoride, a good protector of teeth. Fluoride is what helps fight dental decay, and as much as we want white teeth, I am sure you would agree that we want to KEEP our teeth even more.

Since charcoal is a recent celebrity, it is too early to tell what its really about. Better to wait until the tabloids (and research) unearth its true qualities before we fall head over heels for this new star.

The Debtist

Samantha Tillapaugh is a practicing general dentist in Orange County, CA and is a lifestyle blogger at

I’ve made so many simple swaps over the years to be a little more kind to the planet that I hardly think about them now. They’re so ingrained in my day-to-day life, and I’d love for more people to feel the same way (namely, that it's so easy!). 

Please note: This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways I try to save the planet or ways you can save the planet. These are not all the answers, but a starting point. I’ve tagged some products in this post, but I know it’s better to shop locally instead of sourcing all over the internet (so do that if possible!). Also, I love recycling, but I also try hard not to use single-use plastics and add to the problem of where it all goes.

The List

  1. Use reusable bags, folks. Any old tote will do! I also bought a few produce bags a few years back that are lightweight and breathable.
  2. Bring your own water bottle or cup. This is so easy! I have a Corkcicle and a S’well water bottle. Each keep things hot or cold. There’s no need for takeaway coffee cups any longer (also, did you know that most to go coffee cups aren’t recyclable?)!
  3. Use cloth napkins. I just picked up some mustard-colored ones from a local recycled art supply store for next to nothing, that I’ll get years of use from. When they eventually start to fray, I’ll turn them into rags for cleaning.
  4. Dryer balls. My dog thinks these are for him, but they’re mostly for us humans in the house. They reduce static, help clothes dry faster, and don’t contain chemicals. You can add your own scent to them, too, and they’re under $10.
  5. Consider the restaurants you dine out from. Do they offer sustainable to go options? Will they force a million tiny sauce packets on you? Will they put everything in a plastic bag?
  6. Refuse a straw. This one is tough, even though there’s so much info out there about it! Anytime I’m dining out, I ask for no straw in my water. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (because habits are hard to break!). We can only do so much with what we have, but asking for no straw whenever you can is another way to do a little something for those sea turtles.
  7. Meal plan. Buy only what you are going to use and then use it! If my refrigerator looks barren at the end of the week, I feel victorious! Taking a bit of time to plan what you will actually eat saves food as well as money. Seriously.
  8. Don’t use disposable kitchen items! It’s been years since I’ve used aluminum foil, cling wrap, or resealable bags. I seal food in glassware or wrap in a napkin, and I’m doing just fine.
  9. Invest in clothing that will last a lifetime or thrift. I personally love the thrill of thrifting and giving old clothes a second chance, but investing in a well-made piece is another good option when shopping for new clothes.
  10. Recycle and or compost! I do both, and hardly ever take out the trash. Here in Detroit, we’re lucky to have a grassroots compost company who picks up compost weekly, so I don’t have to have a green thumb (or love of worms!) to live more environmentally. I have a big bowl in my freezer where any scraps are tossed for the week, then I pull them out on compost pick up day. My house doesn’t smell and I’m still saving the world, one onion end at a time. But before I found this service, I took my food scraps to my dad's garden. I'm not a gardener, but for years now, I've managed to find a way to compost my food scraps. I feel confident a few of you can, too.

This list is simply something to think about, and maybe a place to start. Have you made small but impactful changes to reduce your footprint? Do you, too, struggle with refusing a straw?