Myths About Dental Health: Why Everything You Think You Know is a Lie
Did you know that 3% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 wear full or partial dentures? It’s a surprising statistic and it’s not the only one.
We tend to make a lot of incorrect assumptions and have many false preconceptions when it comes to dental health. Most of these are harmless but some change the way that we clean and care for our teeth and may lead to decay, tooth loss, and even anxiety.
As these shocking dental health myths prove, these misunderstandings are widespread and very surprising.
Myth 1: Sugar Causes Cavities
Sugar gets a pretty bad rep. It has been blamed for everything from the obesity epidemic to hyperactive kids and decaying teeth. But while it’s definitely not an innocent party (and almost certainly triggered the obesity epidemic) most of that blame is misdirected.
In fact, two of the main myths surrounding sugar perfectly exemplify why such falsehoods exist in the first place.
The idea that sugar makes children hyperactive is a myth that continues to prevail, even though it has been busted several times.
This myth is often perpetuated by parents and relies on a, “I’ve seen it, so it must be true” belief system. But there is no proof to suggest that this is the case. What we do know, however, is that parents are more inclined to believe their children are being hyperactive after they are informed that they have consumed sugar, even when no sugar was ingested.
It’s a self-perpetuating myth. Some of the blame can be pinned on colorants and flavorings, which are found in most sugary treats and can cause childhood hyperactivity, but for the most part, it’s just something we have come to accept as truth.
And that brings us to the idea that sugar can cause cavities. The problem here is that sugar is associated with cavities and reducing your consumption will reduce the risk of decay, but the sugar itself isn’t the problem.
Your mouth is full of bacteria and this bacteria feeds on sugar. The sugar attracts the bacteria and leads to the production of harmful acid. It’s this acid that causes cavities and it does so by eating away at the enamel, causing damage and decay.
The more sugar you eat, the more of this acid is produced and the more likely you are to experience cavities.
But this issue is not limited to sugary soda and sticky candies. In fact, simple starches like chips are often just as bad and may be worse for your teeth than soda. When you drink a can of soda, it passes over your teeth and tongue and goes straight down your throat. When you chew candies and chips, they can attach themselves to your enamel and become lodged in the crevices.
If you don’t immediately brush, that sugary detritus will remain, and the bacteria will grow.
So, while sugar is bad, it’s not the only cause of cavities and if you brush immediately after eating, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy candies and sweet desserts.
Myth 2: Mouthwash and/or Chewing Gum Replace Brushing
Mouthwash is effective at reducing oral bacteria and chewing gum can stimulate saliva production. Both can form part of a healthy dental hygiene routine but should never be used in place of regular brushing and flossing.
Brushing scrapes plaque from your teeth, stopping it from damaging your enamel and hardening into tartar. The combination of stiff bristles and abrasive paste removes the sticky film of plaque while the introduction of fluoride helps to strengthen, protect, and repair.
Regular use of chewing gum and mouthwash may keep your breath fresh and remove trapped pieces of food, but it won’t do much to that sticky plaque.
Imagine that you have a sink full of dishes, all ingrained with thick, crusty, and stale food. If you soak them in soapy water and give them a quick wipe with a wet rag, you’ll remove some of the food pieces, but the majority will remain. You need to scrub them, and it’s the same with your teeth.
Myth 3: Flossing is Not Important
A toothbrush only cleans the visible surfaces of your teeth and can’t reach the gaps in between. If food becomes trapped in these tight crevices, it will trigger the release of harmful acids and gradually erode your enamel.
You only need to floss once a day and while you can use a water flosser to blast those loose particles away, you still need to floss every so often to remove more stubborn scraps of food.
No one enjoys flossing but failing to do so will greatly increase your risk of developing gum disease and cavities. It’s often said that your chance of getting heart disease is much higher if you don’t floss, but therein lies another myth about dental health…
Myth 4: Not Flossing Increases the Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes, and More
This a myth that countless blogs and even newspapers like to promote. The idea that “not flossing could kill you” is sure to sell a few papers or get a few thousand clicks, but the research isn’t as concrete as they want you to believe.
Firstly, it is possible that poor dental health can increase your chances of developing certain diseases. It’s even possible that gum disease and terrible dental hygiene can increase the risk of heart disease, but those possibilities are slim.
There have been a number of studies finding links between the two, and experts note that there is some biological plausibility, but correlation doesn’t prove causality, and therein lies the problem.
In 2012, studies found a direct link between chocolate consumption and the likelihood of winning a novel prize. The more chocolate that a country ate, the more likely it was to produce Nobel prize winners.
From this, you could deduce that chocolate stimulates creativity and improves intelligence, and that’s the line that many news outlets took when they published the story. In actual fact, it’s simply because richer countries have better education and can afford more luxuries like chocolate.
Education is the cause; chocolate is just an unrelated link.
Where flossing is concerned, we can find similar variables. For instance, many studies have noted that people who have suffered from heart attacks are more likely to have gum disease or other dental health problems.
But they’re also more likely to smoke (a known trigger for both gum disease and heart disease) and to pay less attention to their health. It goes without saying that someone who doesn’t pay much attention to their heart health also doesn’t care much about their dental health.
To be fair, many experts used to believe that there was a genuine link between heart disease and gum disease, but the American Heart Association, and many other organizations, have since changed their stance.
As for diabetes, there is a genuine connection, but it works the other way around, with diabetes sufferers more likely to experience dental health problems.
Myth 5: Kids Don’t Need to Brush
If kids have baby teeth that will fall out in a few years, what’s the point of brushing them? It’s an argument that many parents have made and one that somewhat makes sense, but those teeth need to be brushed!
Kids can develop cavities that lead to pain, infection, and tooth loss. Just because those teeth were going to fall out eventually doesn’t mean your kid won’t suffer or require painful, uncomfortable, and costly medical intervention.
It may also cause gum and mouth damage that remains with them for years and impacts the development of adult teeth.
As soon as those teeth appear, you need to start brushing them, and when your child is old enough to brush their own teeth, you should encourage them to do so. Not only will this reduce the risk of cavities and gum problems, but it will also promote a healthy habit that could stay with them for the rest of their lives.
If they don’t brush when they are younger, what are the odds of them maintaining a healthy dental hygiene routine when they’re older? You’re not responsible for what they do as an adult, but those early habits are entirely your responsibility.
One of the arguments that parents make is that fluoride is dangerous for children and can cause oral and neurological problems. It’s true that high levels of fluoride are dangerous, but you can buy toothpaste formulated specifically for children and if you follow the instructions on the tube and don’t use too much, you shouldn’t have an issue.
Myth 6: You Only Need to See a Dentist When You Have an Issue
You should visit your dentist at least every 6 months for a check-up. They will monitor your oral health, give you a thorough clean, and provide advice with regard to special treatments, brushes, and toothpaste.
If there is an issue, they will find it and treat it.
By the time you experience tooth pain, bleeding gums, and other such issues, it may already be too late.
No one likes visiting the dentist. It’s uncomfortable, intrusive, and often-times expensive. But it’ll be much more uncomfortable and expensive if you don’t get a regular check-up and those minor issues turn into something much more serious.
It costs between $100 and $150 for a dental exam, and this often includes any necessary x-rays and scans. For an additional $100 or so, you can get a professional cleaning service, removing plaque, tartar, and keeping your teeth white and healthy. If you get a full exam and check-up twice a year, it could cost you just $200 to $250.
On the slip side, a filling costs anywhere up to $300 on average and a root canal is over $600 while crowns, veneers, implants, and dentures cost thousands of dollars.
Myth 7: Sugar-Free Soda Won’t Hurt my Teeth
It’s true that sugar-free soda is better for your teeth but it’s wrong to say that they won’t harm them. These drinks are highly acidic and regular consumption can damage your enamel. This is a bigger problem with diet-free soda as they tend to be consumed more freely and excessively.
People think they are harmless, so they don’t think twice about drinking copious amounts, not understanding just how much harm they are doing.
You can rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acidity and remove some of the bacteria, but it’s best to brush your teeth thoroughly or stay away from soda altogether.
Myth 8: Amalgam Fillings are Perfect Safe
Dental amalgam fillings have been used for over 150 years. They are long-lasting, durable, and until recently, they were considered to be perfectly safe, even though they contain small amounts of the toxic metal mercury.
In 1991, the FDA wrote that “none of the data presented show a direct hazard to humans from dental amalgams” but in recent years, there are suggestions that they might be changing their minds.
These fillings have already been banned in numerous countries and many Europeans (dentists and patients alike) have a very negative opinion of mercury fillings.
The late great Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, blamed his fillings for triggering his Alzheimer’s disease and actually underwent a procedure to remove them.
The jury is still out on whether or not they can cause such serious conditions, but it’s true that mercury positioning can have serious neurological effects so it’s easy to see how he reached that conclusion.
These days, there are many safer alternatives to mercury fillings. These alternatives aren’t as strong or long-lasting, but they are much safer and as they are white, they’re also more aesthetically pleasing.
Myth 9: Brushing Harder Cleans Faster
If we return to the dirty plate analogy used above, it makes sense why you would think that harder brushing provides a better clean. But what happens when you start applying lots of pressure and using stiff brushes to scrub your plates when they get dirty? Eventually, they will scratch, chip, and crack—you’ll weaken them and break them.
The same is true for your teeth. Excessively hard brushing might do a good job of removing the plaque, but it could also damage your enamel and gums. If you maintain this routine for many weeks, months, or years, you may be more prone to issues such as bleeding gums and tooth sensitivity.
Receding gums, cavities, and even gum disease also become more common.
Of course, it can be hard to know if you’re brushing too hard, especially if you’ve been doing it all of your life. Some electric toothbrushes have built-in sensors that detect when you’re applying too much pressure and flash a red light to warn you.
If you’re using a manual toothbrush, you don’t have that luxury, but you will know if the brush head becomes crushed/distorted after just a few weeks.
Myth 10: Mouthwash Fixes Bad Breath
A quick rinse with a capful of mouthwash will provide an instant injection of minty flavor and make your breath smell fresh, but it’s not a long-term fix and can do more harm than good.
If the mouthwash is alcohol-based, it will dry your mouth out and could make your breath smell worse once that minty fragrance has disappeared. If your problem is caused by GERD, the mouthwash could worsen it by triggering a reflux attack.
For halitosis caused by decaying teeth, trapped bacteria, and dirty tongues, the mouthwash will just be a drop in the bucket—like masking dirty garbage with a quick spritz of air freshener.
If you have really bad breath, it could be indicative of a more serious health problem, including gum disease or tooth decay. Tell your dentist and they will look for the cause and provide some tips regarding a solution.
Myth 11: Whitening Toothpaste Will Give me a Hollywood Smile
Whitening toothpaste is nowhere near as effective as you might think and won’t give you the bright white smile worn by the models that advertise these products. To understand why, you need to know what makes your teeth discolored in the first place.
The exterior of your teeth is composed of a substance known as enamel. It’s hard and white, but when plaque forms over the surface, it can look discolored. If you clear this plaque away, you will expose the enamel underneath, and this is essentially what whitening toothpaste does.
But when that plaque isn’t cleaned, it combines with the minerals in your saliva and forms a hard substance known as tartar. Whitening toothpaste won’t remove this, only your dentist can do that.
Underneath the tooth, there is a substance known as dentin. It’s much softer than enamel and when it becomes discolored, which can happen as a result of trauma, age, medication, and disease, the entire tooth will lose its luster.
The dentin can’t be cleaned with a toothbrush, only a professional bleaching solution can help with that.
To summarize, whitening toothpaste, along with whitening strips, plays a very small role in whitening your teeth, which is why you can brush for 10 minutes without getting anywhere near the same results that appear on the packaging or in the commercials.
Summary: Myths about Dental Health
As you can see, there is no shortage of myths about teeth, gum disease, dental hygiene, and oral health in general. It makes everything seem overly complicated but if you focus on regular brushing and flossing while avoiding excessive consumption of sugar and starch, you can’t go wrong!