Parents usually mean well, especially when it comes to our health. But sometimes, they just didn’t know any better. Many dental patients end up following dental advice from their parents for decades, not realizing that the information has been debunked or disproved since the time they were kids.
Recently, the Dental Health Society went around asking various practicing dentists about some of the myths and half-truths they have heard from patients. As it turns out, there are still many misconceptions out there.
Here’s what the professionals have to say about them:
Doesn’t It Cure Everything?
The myth: If you have sore gums or a toothache, you can just hold an aspirin next to the area to relieve the pain.
The truth: According to Dr. William Darroca, DDS, of Prairie Lakes Dental Care in Indiana, this is as false as it is dangerous. “Applying aspirin to the gums only causes chemical burn,” says Darroca, and does very little to relieve dental pains.
Aspirin needs to be absorbed by your digestive system to reach pain receptors and work properly. Thus, aspirin (or better yet, ibuprofen) can help temporarily relieve pain, if used as directed.
Given that aspirin is a mild acid (acetylsalicylic acid), letting it dissolve on the soft tissue in your mouth can cause irritation and burning.
The best advice? See your dentist for persistent tooth pain so he or she can find out what is causing the pain, and move to remedy it.
Not Groovy at All
The myth: If you brush too hard, you can cause grooves on your tooth at the gum line.
The truth: There’s quite a bit of debate over what happens if you brush too hard. Some websites claim that brushing too hard can cause your gums to recede, creating new places for bacteria to hide.
But brushing too hard is probably not what is causing your gum-lines issues. “It’s usually due to malocclusion,” says Dr. Darroca. (Malocclusion is when there is imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed, and is usually fixed by braces, aligner trays, or headgear.)
As for how hard to brush? Better to worry about brushing the right way. Yes, if you press hard with your toothbrush and use a sawing motion, you can wear down your enamel over time. Hold your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and slow your speed of brushing for better results. Also, it’s wise to use a softer toothbrush—not because hard bristles create grooves, but simply because they are stiff and so do not reach into the smaller spaces between teeth nearly as well.
All I Have to Do Is Avoid It!
The myth: If you avoid sweets and sugary soda, you’ll never get a cavity.
The truth: It’s true that too many sugary snacks and drinks can make your mouth a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause cavities. But there are other causes of cavities, too.
Take foods first. Starchy foods like chips and crackers begin to break down in your mouth into— you guessed it— sugar. And so these foods can created the right conditions for cavities as well. Best to brush to remove any food bits after any snack.
When it comes to soda, avoiding sugar isn’t enough, either. “Though diet sodas don’t have cavity-causing sugars in them, they still are highly acidic. Our mouth has acid-loving bacteria that contribute to cavities,” writes Pamela Sehra, DDS, BDS, MPH on the Dental Associates Blog. Fruit juices can be acidic as well. This acid works with bacteria to cause tooth decay.
Even if you avoid starches and acidic drinks, you might not be out of the woods yet. The rate at which people get cavities also depend on the thickness of enamel and the acidity of saliva, both of which have a heavy genetic component. Some people are simply prone to cavities, then, through no fault of their own. While this means a cavity might not be entirely their fault, it does provide a good reason to take extra good care of those teeth!
That Seals the Deal
The myth: Kids shouldn’t get sealants because they are filled with BPA!
The truth: This is a more recent one, as concerns over BPA have only recently reached the popular culture. But our dentists have heard one too many parents worry over the BPA content of sealants. Some parents refuse to get their kids sealants because of this worry.
There are some pros and cons to sealants, but BPA is not one of them. The amount of BPA in sealants are tiny and considered well below the amount that could be harmful, according to research by The American Dental Association.
It’s in the Water…
The myth: Fluoridated water is what causes tooth discoloration!
The truth: This myth is actually based on some fact. There is a condition, called Fluorosis, which is a discoloration of the teeth caused by exposure to excessive fluoride when young. According to WebMD, approximately 1 in 4 Americans have some form of fluorosis, though only 2% of these cases is considered “moderate,” and less than 1% is considered “severe.”
Mild cases of fluorosis present with small discolorations or white streaks on the teeth. In more severe cases, there can be yellowish or brown streaks, grooves, or noticeable pits.
Most municipalities do add small amounts of fluoride to public drinking water. However, they have spent the last few decades getting the balance right: Enough fluoride to help fight cavities, but not so much as to cause noticeable fluorosis. Most severe cases of fluorosis happen because of inappropriate or excessive use of fluoride-containing dental products.
In other words, well-meaning parents overdo it with fluoride tablets, fluoride mouthwash, and fluoride toothpaste. (It doesn’t help that kids tend to swallow these, instead of spitting out as they are supposed to.) Children should get enough fluoride from water and brushing with a fluoride toothpaste 2-3 times a day. (More fluoride products would be needed if your home or municipality does not have fluoridated water.)
Also note that some medications, such as the antibiotics doxycycline and tetracycline, have been shown to discolor developing teeth in young children. So tooth discoloration can be the result of having to take these medicines as a child, too.
Luckily, most of these kinds of discoloration can be remedied with professional teeth whitening techniques. If you have discoloration, it is well worth asking your dentist about them.