10 Common Dental Myths & Misconceptions

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by Dr. Cameron, D.D.S.

I have been practicing dentistry now for over 29 years, which means a couple of things:

One is… I’m getting really really old. The other is… I’ve heard and seen a lot of funny things from all the patients I’ve been fortunate enough to treat over my career.

So I thought I would write a short article on some of the the myths and misconceptions in dentistry, and although the list I’m providing in this post is by no means all inclusive, or in any special order, it is a sampling of the sometimes erroneous, sometimes funny, and sometimes just really weird things my patients have told me over the years.

So here it goes:

Myth #1

“Pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid seeing the dentist”

In fact, this could not be further from the truth. I encourage all women who are either trying to get pregnant, already pregnant, or recently pregnant and nursing to visit their dentist at their regular 6 month intervals, in some cases I may actually want to see them every three months! There are many changes that occur during pregnancy and many of them can manifest in the mouth. Seeing your dentist during this time will both keep you informed about your health, as well as reduce the need for emergency dental work during pregnancy through proper maintenance.

Myth #2

“It’s only a baby tooth… it will be replaced anyway. No need for my child to see the dentist”

FACT: Baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. A lot of parents are misinformed about this. Children need their teeth for the same reasons as adults, for proper chewing, for proper speech, etc. Imagine your child experiencing a severe toothache just because you haven’t brought him/her to the dentist before. Cavities on baby teeth should be filled and restored before they lead to toothache or infection. They also play a big role in guiding the erupting permanent teeth to the right position. If a baby tooth is removed too early (which can happen due to severe decay), the space for the erupting permanent tooth is usually lost resulting in misalignment. It is important to make sure that your child’s teeth are as healthy as possible. If a child isn’t having their teeth brushed and flossed, odds are they won’t develop proper habits to brush and floss their permanent teeth either, which leads to more severe and expensive dental issues as they get older. So all in all, it is more than just a baby tooth.

Myth #3

“You only need to go to the dentist if your teeth hurt”

You might be aware of the saying “prevention is better than the cure”. What is relatively less heard of is that diagnosing and curing a tooth problem at an earlier stage is much easier and cost-effective than if it were to be addressed later.

Even if you aren’t experiencing dental pain, I recommend seeing your dentist twice (or at least once) a year for regular cleanings and exams. Some dental issues are asymptomatic but can still cause infection and need treatment. If you were to wait too long, the treatment needed may be more expensive than if the disease were caught before it worsened. Also, the tooth has a lesser chance of being saved at a later point in time.

Altogether, prevention saves you both time and money in the long-run.

Myth #4

“My tooth was hurting a lot before, but the pain has gone away. I don’t think I need to see the dentist anymore”

(This is almost the same as Myth #2 I realize, but it is just slightly different enough and I have heard this so many times over the years it is worth repeating a similar message.)

Not only is this terrible advice, but ignoring any tooth pain or trying to “push through” the pain can lead to serious health consequences. Many times the severe pain of a tooth is caused by dental caries (or a cavity) that has reached the nerve inside the tooth. As the nerve gets infected, it begins to die which you feel as pain. Once the nerve has died, you will not feel any pain on that tooth. The infection, however, will remain and if left untreated can lead to an abscess, or the infection can spread to other areas of your body such as your sinus, throat, and even heart.

If you experience tooth pain, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

Myth #5

“Root canals are painful”

This common belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Root canals, or more accurately, Root Canal Therapy, is the process where a dentist removes the diseased nerve and bacteria from within the tooth while disinfecting and finally sealing the space so that no future infection can occur. During the procedure the area is fully anesthetized so you should not feel anything while the procedure is in progress. Because we are removing the source of infection and pain, you should feel immediate relief after the procedure is complete. Typically only a slight soreness is present for the following hours up to about a day. In contrast, leaving a tooth untreated will lead to more pain in the future and may also lead to a larger infection that can affect your overall health as well as losing a tooth.

Don’t put off root canals for fear of pain!

Myth #6

“Place an Aspirin directly into a sore tooth or sore gum tissue”

You should never place most (if not all) medications directly on the sore area in your mouth. I mention Aspirin in particular because this is the one I have seen my patients actually do quite a few times over the years. This is an old at-home remedy, and it’s completely false. You should never put aspirin directly on or near an aching tooth. After all, you wouldn’t put aspirin on your forehead if you had a headache, would you?

The only safe and effective way to take an aspirin tablet is to swallow it. When you swallow aspirin, it gets absorbed into your body through your digestive tract. It then enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. Aspirin (as well as a number of other types of pain medications) works by stopping the production of prostaglandins, molecules that send pain messages from the injured part of your body to your brain. When the aspirin reaches your aching tooth, it inhibits prostaglandin production there, reducing the pain you feel. So even though it may be tempting to bypass the digestive process by putting the aspirin directly on your tooth, it just doesn’t work that way.  Also Aspirin is  fairly acidic and can cause actual burns in a patients oral tissues which can cause more pain then their original source of discomfort.

Myth #7

“I brush properly, I don’t need to floss”

Wrong…! Brushing cleans only 65% of your teeth. What about the other 35%? These are the surfaces in between your teeth which the toothbrush cannot reach (even if you use ultra-thin bristles). Only dental floss can remove food debris stuck in those areas. Neglecting to floss (which ideally you should do at least once a day) may lead to cavities you won’t even notice because… yes, you guessed it right… they’re formed in between your teeth and can be detected only by dental x-rays.  Also next to proper dental cleanings, flossing is a patient’s best defense against Periodontal (Gum) Disease, which is the #1 cause of tooth loss in my adult patients.

Myth # 8

“Oral health is not connected to the rest of the body”

Your oral health is connected to your systemic (overall) health and there are many correlations between your mouth and body. A mouth with severe tooth decay and periodontal disease is more likely to cause bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and result in other health issues. More and more studies are finding links between periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.  I often tell my patients , that if they had a chronic infection in one of their organs i.e. kidney, liver, it not only impairs the function of that particular organ but that infection has a high chance of spreading throughout the rest of your body.  Your mouth is no different.  I have read very sad and extreme cases of dental infections leading to brain abscess, these patients are often hospitalized for months, and they can be fatal, when all that was required was that a simple dental infection in one tooth had to be treated. Your mouth is part of your body …. it almost seems silly to say that in print, but for some reason some patients still fail to make that connection, and their overall health suffers needlessly for years at a time.

Myth #9

“The harder you brush, the cleaner you’ll get your teeth”

FACT: Brushing too hard or with too abrasive of a toothbrush (medium or firm) can actually harm your teeth by eroding some of the hard enamel that protects the inside of the tooth from cavities and decay. I see it so much where people feel like they’re getting them more clean, but they are actually wearing away their enamel and even their gums.  These patients have good intentions , but unfortunately they are just misinformed.  I have seen quite a number of patients who have done this, and they have caused considerable damage to their teeth and gums, and now require extensive treatments to try to save their teeth.  I always recommend a soft, or even an extra soft, bristled brush.  If you are wondering if your toothpaste is too abrasive… an easy way to check, is to seal if it has the “Seal of Approval”  from the Canadian Dental Association, if it has this, you are fine, if it doesn’t you may want to do a bit of research into the brand you are using.

Myth # 10

“You’ve been slacking on brushing and flossing and have a dentist appointment coming up. As long as you brush and floss well before going in, no one will know, right?”

The real deal: Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not getting away with anything. My hygienist and I can tell. Without regular brushing and flossing, hard tartar (calculus) forms around your teeth and at a certain point you can’t get it off with brushing alone. Plus, you can’t undo the inflammation in your gums that occurs when plaque and tartar have accumulated over six months with just a few days of flossing.  So…  “we kind of know when you’ve been bad or good”.  But the good news is, I always tell my patients your dental recall appointment is a great time to get back to your good habits of daily oral health care.

Dr. Cameron is a full time General dentist who practices in Antigonish. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors, and he has served on a provincial working group dedicated to the Oral Health of Seniors in our province.

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