Red Light Therapy for Teeth and Gums: Your Key to Better Oral Health?
Good oral health is so much more than just a beautiful smile. In fact, health experts have known for some time now that oral health is linked to a variety of general health issues. They also stress the importance of prevention when it comes to oral health. Not only can neglected tooth and gum issues become more problematic and painful over time, they’re also much more difficult - and expensive - to fix.
Let’s not underestimate the personal and societal importance of a beautiful smile, however. The global cosmetic dentistry industry was valued at 18.79 billion dollars in 2018, and is expected to soar to more than 30 billion by 2026. This rise can be attributed to an aging population, the development of new technologies in dentistry, as well as an increased societal focus on perfect pearly whites.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the many health benefits of red light therapy (if not, this article is a good start.) Did you know it can also be an important and useful part of your dental hygiene regimen? Read on to learn how red light therapy can improve oral health and the appearance of your teeth, as well as help with recovery from dental procedures.
From a Rouge customer: I have been treating a small bout of perioral dermatitis and the red light therapy is doing a wonderful job at keeping the inflammation way down
The Importance of Oral Health for Overall Health
Your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory systems. Bacteria from the mouth can migrate to these systems, causing serious, sometimes life-threatening issues. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to the following health issues:
- Endocarditis: Meaning inflammation of the endocardium (the inner lining of the heart), this condition occurs when bacteria from the mouth travels through the bloodstream and attaches to the lining of the heart chambers or valves. It can develop slowly over time, and is often difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages. It is generally treated with IV antibiotics, although some more severe cases may require surgery. Left untreated, it can cause serious heart complications, and may affect other organs as well.
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD): This term refers to a class of diseases related to the heart or blood vessels. It covers a wide variety of heart conditions, including stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack), angina, congenital and rheumatic heart disease, venal thrombosis, and abnormal heart rhythms, just to name a few. As with endocarditis, it appears that CVD can be caused by bacteria from the mouth traveling through the blood vessels, triggering an inflammatory response in the arteries. Chronic inflammation of the arteries is a common denominator in CVD.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) is an infection of the gums caused by the accumulation and hardening of plaque, typically due to poor brushing and flossing habits. Recent research has uncovered a link between gum disease and RA, and that the microenvironment found in inflamed gums may play a role in the development of RA, as well as its severity and propagation.
- Pancreatic cancer: New research indicates that gum disease may be a warning sign for pancreatic cancer. A 2016 study found that people with high levels of Porphyromonas gingivalis (a common type of bacteria in gum disease) were 59% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. While it’s important to note that correlation does not include causation, and further research is needed to determine whether gum disease is a cause of this type of cancer or if it’s simply an indicator.
- Pneumonia: Harmful mouth bacteria can not only travel through your bloodstream, it can also be inhaled, leading to an infection in the lungs, or bacterial pneumonia. Research suggests that people who do not have proper oral hygiene habits or who do not visit the dentist regularly have a significantly greater chance of developing pneumonia.
- Low birth weight or premature birth: Poor oral health can also lead to worse outcomes in pregnancy. Although the mechanisms are not yet clearly understood, it is clear that the importance of proper oral hygiene and dental care should be communicated to pregnant women as part of their overall prenatal care.
Given the clear link between oral health and overall health, simply brushing and flossing daily along with regular visits to the dentist should be all it takes, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.
Common Causes of Poor Oral Health
- Unhealthy lifestyle: This can include poor brushing and flossing habits. It can also include such risk factors as smoking, drinking alcohol, excessive sugar consumption, and not drinking enough water.
- Poverty: Most dental procedures, including cleanings, are not covered by medicare. Many people simply cannot afford to pay out of pocket for cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, and the like, often leading to unhealthy teeth and gums. Furthermore, many people living below the poverty line don’t have access to healthy food options, or even clean water in extreme cases, which may further worsen their oral health.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to have oral issues, particularly gum disease, due to decreased blood flow to the gums. Higher blood sugar can also dry out the mouth, allowing bacteria to flourish.
- Some cancers: Many cancers as well as their treatments can cause a host of oral health problems, including dry mouth, thickened saliva, tooth decay, difficulty swallowing, infection, inflammation of the lining of the mouth, and gum disease.
- HIV/AIDS: Because HIV affects the immune system, it can cause many oral health issues, including tooth loss, ulcerative gum disease, dry mouth, gingivitis, canker sores, herpes simplex outbreaks, and oral Kaposi sarcoma (abnormal cancerous tissue growth), among others.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis can cause damage to the jawbone, which supports the teeth. This in turn can result in tooth loss. Loss of bone density in the jaw also leaves the bone more susceptible to bacteria, increasing the risk of periodontal disease.
The Rise of Cosmetic Dentistry and The Quest for the Perfect Smile
Good oral health is not simply a matter of health. Your smile can drastically affect not only your self-confidence, but how others perceive you, as well. Crooked, missing, or discolored teeth can have a significant impact on both one’s career and social life. In fact, according to a survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 48 percent of people think that a smile is the most memorable feature upon meeting someone new, and 3 out of 4 adults believe that an unattractive smile can hurt your career prospects (read more interesting facts about smiles and first impressions here).
So great is the perceived advantage straight teeth gives a person that braces have become a rite of passage for children in North America, a simple fact of growing up. In fact, 3.5 million children in the US get braces each year. As for adults seeking straighter teeth through braces, that number has risen more than 40 percent in the last decade to 1.4 million. And increasingly people are turning to clear aligners such as Invisalign, which allow them to bypass the awkwardness of metal braces.
Overall, the orthodontics industry is valued at more than $2 billion annually, and is expected to continue climbing. This shows that people are willing to spend a substantial amount of time and money, and go through great pains - quite literally - to have straight teeth.
Teeth straightening aside, the most popular cosmetic procedures are, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry:
Whitening may be last on the list, but that’s only because of the increased availability of at-home whitening kits. Teeth whitening is quite the healthy industry, with a global market value of more than $6 billion in 2020. There is a wealth of whitening options available on the market, but as we’ll see, they can cause some issues, chief among them being tooth sensitivity.
Pulling Teeth: When Is Tooth Extraction Necessary?
There are many reasons to have teeth extracted. Sometimes a tooth has decayed past the point of saving. Gum disease or dental trauma can also require the removal of teeth. And occasionally teeth may be too crowded, requiring one or two to be removed to create space for straightening. And, of course, there are wisdom teeth, which can cause crowding, pain, and infection, especially if they are impacted.
Tooth extraction is often a last resort, as it can cause the patient some difficulties with speaking and eating, and can cause teeth to shift. Teeth are also integral to supporting the jawbone. And tooth extraction requires time to heal and can cause pain, inflammation, bleeding, bruising, and infection.
You might be wondering how red light therapy can possibly help with such a vast array of issues, conditions, and concerns related to healthy and beautiful teeth and gums. How can something as simple as light affect everything from gum disease to orthodontics? While the process for you and I couldn’t be simpler - all it takes is a few minutes a few times a week - the amount of work going on behind the scenes - in the teeny tiny spaces within your cells to be precise - is monumental.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy, also called photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy, is the process of diffusing concentrated wavelengths of natural light into the skin to treat various ailments and conditions and to otherwise improve the functioning of the cells.
The treatment typically uses light-emitting diodes (LED) to safely deliver red and near-infrared (NIR) light deep into the skin to the cells, where it triggers a biochemical reaction that allows the mitochondria to use oxygen more efficiently to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is a molecule that shuttles energy within the body’s cells. Also known as the body’s energy currency, it’s responsible for all cellular activity. And for various reasons - age, illness, poor lifestyle habits - ATP production can wane, which can have deleterious effects on any number of organs and tissues - including teeth and gums.
One of the well-documented effects of increased ATP production is improved blood circulation. This creates a positive cycle in which increased blood flow allows more oxygen to reach the cells. Mitochondria, having easier access to oxygen, is then able to increase ATP production even further, and so on.
Red light therapy also triggers a reaction called hormesis. The term is derived from the Greek word hormàein, meaning “to excite” or “to set in motion”, and it’s pretty spot on. The theory is that small doses of toxins can have a beneficial effect on the body. Research shows that red light therapy exerts temporary mild oxidative stress on the mitochondria which sends a signal to the cells to activate its defense systems. This anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response ultimately strengthens your cells, making them all the more capable of producing energy.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy For Healthy Teeth and Gums - and a Beautiful Smile
Now that we have an idea of how red light therapy works in the general sense, let’s turn our attention to the specifics. This section will explore the peer-reviewed research that has been published to date about the many benefits of red light therapy on oral health.
Red light therapy for bacteria, gingivitis, and gum disease
As we’ve already seen, excess mouth bacteria can lead to a host of serious health issues.
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums due to an accumulation of plaque (a film of bacteria). While it’s fairly common, particularly in children, if left untreated it can lead to periodontitis (gum disease). One 2011 study examined the effects of red light therapy in conjunction with basic treatment on children with chronic gingivitis. They concluded that while the basic treatment is effective in curing gingivitis, red light therapy significantly improves this effectiveness.
A 2018 study applied red light therapy treatment to 30 subjects with chronic periodontitis, alongside periodontal treatment. Another 30 control subjects were only given periodontal treatment. The red light therapy group showed significantly lower levels of several types of bacteria post treatment than the control group.
Another study from 2018 found red light therapy combined with the traditional treatment of scaling and root planing was significantly more effective for treating severe periodontitis than scaling and root planing alone. A 2019 study involving patients with chronic periodontitis showed similar results. See similar findings here and here.
One 2015 study used extracted teeth to measure the effectiveness of both red and near-infrared light on Enterococcus faecalis, a type of bacteria that is generally found in the digestive tract of healthy people, but that can cause serious health issues in other parts of the body. E. Faecalis is a major cause of root canal failure, partly because of its high resistance to disinfecting agents. The extracted teeth were incubated with E. faecalis for two weeks, after which they were treated with a red LED lamp or a NIR diode laser. The study found that both treatments significantly reduced the bacterial count (compared to the control group). Red light was found to be slightly but significantly more effective than the NIR laser.
Red light therapy for tooth, gum, and bone regeneration
In many cases, patients who have had teeth extracted must wait for the jawbone and alveolus (the socket the root of the tooth fits into) to heal before placing implants. In a 2019 study, researchers found red light therapy treatment to significantly accelerate the regeneration of soft tissue and bone.
A 2020 study looked at the effects of red light therapy on pulpotomy of primary molars in children aged five to eight. Pulpotomy is a procedure done to save decaying baby teeth (and, less commonly, adult teeth), by removing infected pulp from under the tooth’s crown. The study found that red light therapy produced statistically significant favorable outcomes post-pulpotomy. Similar results can be found in this 2014 study as well as this one from 2015.
Red light therapy for oral wounds and ulcers
Aphthous stomatitis or ulcers, more commonly known as canker sores, affects 20% of the population to varying degrees. Most people only get them sporadically, although for some they can be a recurrent problem. This 2014 study and this 2019 study both demonstrate red light therapy to be effective in reducing pain associated with canker sores, as well as healing time.
Denture stomatitis (DS) is a common inflammatory condition affecting denture wearers and caused by candida (yeast) infection. One 2004 study found that red light therapy had an effective fungicidal effect, and researchers concluded it to be a valuable treatment option for DS, especially given the high recurrence rate of the condition. A 2015 study produced similar results.
Oral lichen planus (OLP) is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the mucous membranes of the mouth. It may present as white patches, red, swollen tissue, or open sores, and it can cause significant pain and discomfort. There is currently no cure, and treatment is focused on diminishing the symptoms. In 2017, researchers conducted a systematic review of six studies investigating the efficacy of red light therapy on OLP. They found the therapy to be effective in treating the condition in all six studies, with no adverse effects. They concluded that red light therapy could be used as a safe alternative to corticosteroids for the management of symptoms.
A 2015 article discussing the role of red light therapy in periodontal and peri-implant wound healing asserts that RLT is “being gradually integrated with mechanical therapy to enhance subsequent wound healing by achieving thorough debridement, decontamination, and tissue stimulation”.
Red light therapy for oral complications due to cancer treatment
Many cancer treatments can have oral side effects, including oral mucositis, radiation dermatitis, lymphedema (swelling), burning mouth sensation, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and taste alteration. Several studies and reviews (such as this one and this one from 2018 and 2019, respectively) have been conducted on the efficacy of red light therapy in alleviating these and other side effects of cancer treatment. Researchers have concluded that red light therapy is a safe and time-saving method of managing the oral complications of cancer therapy. This can result in a higher quality of life for patients, as well as greater adherence to treatment.
Red light therapy for orthodontic tooth movement
One of the biggest downsides to orthodontic treatment is the sheer amount of time it takes to achieve the perfect smile. Not only is it a drag for the patient (ask any teenager), long treatment time can lead to complications such as cavities, root resorption, and gum recession. Luckily, recent research has shown red light therapy to be quite effective in speeding up the movement of teeth thus shortening orthodontic treatment. This 2020 review of 11 studies on red light therapy and orthodontic tooth movement found the treatment to statistically accelerate tooth movement in 8 of the 11 studies. Other studies and reviews demonstrating this effect can be found here, here, and here.
Red light therapy for pain and swelling related to dental procedures
It’s near impossible to discuss orthodontics without touching on the topic of pain. Anyone who has had braces surely remembers the excruciating soreness after a tightening, not to mention the irritation of the inner cheeks, lips, and gums. Red light therapy appears to show some promise in its ability to reduce both spontaneous and chewing pain related to orthodontic treatment, according to studies such as this one from 2015 and this one from 2017. While further research is necessary, there is a large body of research supporting the effectiveness of red light therapy for treating various types of pain.
Root canals are one of the most feared dental procedures due to the pain associated. We’re happy to report some promising news: it appears red light therapy is effective in treating postoperative pain related to the procedure. In one 2017 study, 36 patients were split into two groups, the first receiving post-op red light therapy and the other receiving a placebo. Those who underwent the red light therapy treatment experienced significantly reduced pain in the first four days after the root canal procedure. A 2019 review of the current research also concluded that red light therapy is a promising treatment option for root canal-related pain management.
Another study from 2018 found red light therapy to be effective in reducing postoperative pain in patients with molar pain caused by apical periodontitis (an inflammatory lesion around the apex of the root of the tooth). A 2015 meta-analysis also found red light therapy to be effective in reducing pain after molar surgery (as well as swelling), as did this 2016 study.
Red light therapy for tooth sensitivity
There are many causes of tooth sensitivity, also called dentin hypersensitivity (DH). These can include gastroesophageal reflux, tooth grinding, overconsumption of acidic foods, tooth decay, broken or chipped teeth, and gum recession, and of course, teeth whitening products. And given that teeth whitening has quickly risen a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s no wonder people are experiencing tooth sensitivity more than ever before.
Luckily, recent research has shown that red light therapy can help. One 2016 study investigated the effects of both red light and near-infrared (NIR) light treatments on tooth sensitivity following an in-office bleaching procedure. Both treatments were significantly more effective at reducing sensitivity than the placebo. Interestingly, they found NIR light to be more effective than red light after 24 hours, but the results were comparable after 48 hours. Similar results were found in this 2017 case study.
A 2019 study found red light therapy to be effective at reducing tooth sensitivity when combined with potassium nitrate (the active ingredient in toothpaste for sensitive teeth). The combination of treatments was more effective than either treatment alone. A similar 2019 study, however, found both red light therapy and potassium nitrate to be effective at reducing sensitivity, but this effect was not increased by using both together.
Finally, in this 2020 study, researchers investigated the effects of red light therapy combined with a fluoride varnish for reducing tooth sensitivity in patients with molar-incisor hypomineralization (MIH). MIH is an enamel defect usually affecting children under 10. They found the combination of treatments to be effective in reducing sensitivity, with the fluoride varnish having a late-onset effect and red light therapy a more immediate effect.
What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Red Light Therapy?
One of the reasons red light therapy is being so extensively studied as a treatment for a wide variety of illnesses and health issues is because of its impressive safety profile. In fact, researchers have found no major risks or side effects associated with the treatment. Some users have reported slight temporary redness in the targeted area as well as mild eye discomfort from the brightness of the lights. The use of safety goggles can help mitigate the latter effect.
How You Can Get the Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Healthy Teeth and Gums At Home
Until recently, specialty clinics and high-end spas were the only places you could get red light therapy treatment in a high enough concentration and with the right specs to be effective (it’s not just a red light bulb, as we’ve seen). However, contrary to many procedures that require the deft hand and extensive training of a professional, red light therapy is so easy and safe to use that virtually anyone can operate it.
Moreover, given that each treatment requires no more than a few minutes, in-clinic treatments can be rather inconvenient - not to mention expensive. A single treatment at a spa can cost upwards of $100. This might be affordable for a procedure that requires one or two treatments and voila! You’re done. However, the key to effective red light therapy lies in frequent and consistent treatment. Imagine spending $300 a week, plus an hour or more out of your day each time. Sound inaccessible? We think so, too.
With Rouge Red Light Therapy, you can get the same quality red light therapy you’d find in a clinic right in the comfort of your own home, at a much more affordable price. Your Rouge device costs roughly the same as a handful of pro sessions, but with a lifetime of daily use at your fingertips. Plus, third-party testing has revealed Rouge red light therapy panels to be the most powerful and concentrated on the market today. You can see the results in detail for yourself here.
Rouge offers a wide range of red light therapy panels at varying sizes and price points, so you can tailor your purchase to your specific needs. If tooth and gum health is your main concern, you may benefit from a smaller panel, such as the Rouge Tabletop or even the Rouge Nano. However, oral health is but one of the dozens of clinically-proven benefits of red light therapy. Some of these include:
- Skin rejuvenation;
- Wound and scar healing;
- Pain and inflammation
- Arthritis-related joint pain and stiffness;
- Immune health;
- Cognitive function;
- Mental health and depression;
- Vitamin D;
- Hair growth;
- Weight loss and body contouring;
- Muscle growth, athletic performance, and recovery;
- Hormone health and sex drive;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Eye health.
Rouge offers both full- and half-body panels, such as the Rouge Ultimate and the Rouge Pro, so you can achieve improvements in a number of areas at once. And here’s a welcome bonus: many of our clients who purchase a panel for specific issues such as pain management report seeing favorable changes in unexpected ways, like brighter, firmer skin, or improved sleep. What surprise benefits will your red light therapy treatment uncover?
What’s the Bottom Line?
The growing body of research clearly shows red light therapy to be a potentially powerful tool to use in conjunction with your regular oral hygiene routine and with traditional dental treatments. Talk to your dentist about adding red light therapy to your oral care regimen today, and give yourself the gift of healthier teeth and gums. Now that’s something to smile about.