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24 years of dentistry research: 10 myths debunked

We’re serious about your smile! As every dental professional knows, your mouth is an excellent indicator of your overall health. You’d be surprised how much it reveals about your well-being. But there are plenty of myths about dental health and dentistry research, as well.

Think that tingly sensation from using Listerine is a sign it’s working? Or that bad breath is caused by poor oral hygiene? Or that fluoride is bad for your health? 

Research suggests you could be wrong. Here are the 10 most common myths we encounter — and links to the studies where you can learn more.

Dental myth #10: Beauty salons are a good choice for whitening your teeth

FACT: Teeth whitening treatments in beauty salons are not the same as the treatment your dental professional provides. A professional whitening treatment is done in a dental office, using the right equipment and precautions. Using an over-the-counter kit can be harmful to your gums, as well, and can cause tooth sensitivity if not used as directed.

Instead, ask your dentist about whitening your teeth, and how to get even better results with little discomfort. As one of our dentists from Houston, Texas tells his patients: “The cheapest dentistry is when the right thing is done extremely well the first time — and it lasts for a long time." (Source 1&2)

Dental myth #9: Alcohol-based mouthwash is more effective

FACT: That burning sensation in your mouth comes from the alcohol content, and does not mean it’s working more effectively. In fact, it could be doing harm. Alcohol is a cheap ingredient, which is why manufacturers so often use it in their mouthwash.

If you suffer from bad breath or a dry mouth, stick to an alcohol-free mouthwash. Chlorhexidine can be a particularly effective treatment as well, and is available by prescription from your dentist. It can be used safely for up to 6 months.

Consult your dentist first, as there could be side-effects. Depending on your specific issues and goals, you may also want to consider a mouthwash with fluoride. (Source: 3,4 & 5)

Dental myth #8: The purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove food debris

Toothbrush with toothpaste

FACT: The main purpose for brushing your teeth at least once daily is not to remove food debris, but rather to remove dental plaque.

Even when you can’t see it, microscopic plaque is there. This formation of dental plaque is a natural process, and cannot be prevented. But you can remove the plaque by using a toothbrush and by flossing.

Most plaque collects along the gum lines as well as just under the gum tissues. Removing plaque prevents the development of gum diseases and caries. (Source: 6)

Dental myth #7: Women shouldn’t schedule dental visits during pregnancy

FACT: Inadequate oral hygiene during pregnancy can put your unborn child at risk. In fact, gum disease during pregnancy has been shown to increase a woman’s likelihood to experience premature labor. It can also result in low birth weight in infants. Most women experience hormonal changes that make their gums swollen or bleed. When pregnant, it is advised to visit your dentist more than usual. (Source: 7)

Dental myth #6: Bad breath always means your oral hygiene is inadequate

FACT: Bad breath can be embarrassing to talk about, even with your dentist. Having bad breath does not necessarily mean that you have bad oral hygiene. It may just mean that the natural flora in your mouth is altered. Some common causes of halitosis (bad breath) can be periodontal disease, diabetes, hepatitis, or even liver diseases. Talk to your dentist or hygienist, as they will be more than happy to help you find a solution for your problem.

Dental myth #5: You can’t damage your teeth by brushing them too much

FACT: Although it may seem like scrubbing your teeth harder cleans them better, it can actually damage your tooth enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in the entire body. Yet, it can fade due to excessive brushing.

Instead, use a soft or extra soft brush to clean your teeth. Apply just a little bit of pressure. Then, move back and forth, focusing on one or two teeth at a time. Refrain from making wide, broad strokes across several teeth, as this can lead to abrasion of the enamel along the gum lines. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, it may be a sign that you have gum disease. When in doubt, always talk to your dentist.

Dental myth #4: You can’t blame dental problems on stress

FACT: Actually, some of the blame is caused by stress factors. Research has linked high levels of stress with an increased likelihood of developing gum disease, especially due to the strain on your immune system. Stress affects lifestyle habits and choices, which, in turn, affect the mouth.

Many people subconsciously take their stress out through clenching their teeth. This muscle tension can cause pain to radiate through the jaws, (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), and into the head and face – leading to headaches or TMJ disorder. (Source: 8)

Dental myth #3: Fluoride is damaging to your health

FACT: Anything in excess can be unhealthy, even water. However, research has shown that fluoride in proper amounts can greatly reduce the amount of tooth decay. In fact, municipal water fluoridation reduces tooth decay rates by about 40% in the residents of those communities. There is not yet sufficient scientific research to support the claims that fluoride is deadly or carcinogenic. (Source: 9)

Dental myth #2: It is always necessary to remove your wisdom teeth

FACT: Many people are able to enjoy their wisdom teeth without ever having problems. Wisdom teeth only need to be removed on a case-by-case basis, when there is not adequate space in the mouth. Lack of space can lead to tooth decay or gum disease, due to the inability to reach those areas and keep them clean. Impacted teeth can also damage healthy teeth adjacent to them, resulting in additional dental concerns.

Your dentist may suggest proactively removing your wisdom teeth if he or she suspects there is inadequate space in your jaws. However, many people wait until symptoms such as pain or swelling develop before having their wisdom teeth pulled. (Source: 10)

Dental myth #1: Teeth only become stained because of the foods and drinks we consume

FACT: Many different factors influence teeth discoloration. The types of drinks and food we consume can have impact on the shade of your teeth. Even environmental factors can influence tooth staining (such as mineral levels in our drinking water). Be careful with prescription medication like tetracycline. In other cases, we may simply inherit darker colored teeth from our parents. Or, a childhood illness may cause localized staining and discoloration. Even a history of trauma can cause specific teeth to become discolored. (Source: 11)

Myths are as old as mankind, and dental myths are particularly persistent. This is not only the case in Texas, there are similar fables all over the world. We compared over 12 articles and research papers, spanning over 24 years of dentistry research. Arm yourself with knowledge… After all, your mouth is one of the most important parts of your body.

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SOURCES

1. "NHS (National Institute for Health Research) UK, retrieved 20 November 2015, “Teeth Whitening”

2. "American Dental Association, September 2009, “Tooth Whitening/Bleaching: Treatment Considerations for Dentists and Their Patients”.

3. A doctor's letter, "Magic Mouthwash”.

4. J Periodontol, January 1992, “Day-long reduction of oral malodor by a two-phase oil:water mouthrinse as compared to chlorhexidine and placebo rinses”.

5. “American Dental Association, Learn more about Mouthrinses”.

6. Journal of Dental Hygiene, Summer 2009, “The Effect of Brushing Time and Dentifrice on Dental Plaque Removal in vivo”.

7. Jeffcoat M, Parry S, Sammel M, et al. 2011. Periodontal infection and preterm birth: successful periodontal therapy reduces the risk of preterm birth.BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 118:250–256..

8. American Dental Association, June 2007, “Stress and Oral Health”

9. The Nation’s Health, American Public Health Association, Health advocates fighting myths about fluoridation with science: Misinformation endangers oral health

10. NHS, National Institute for Health Research, July 2000, “The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth”

11. WebMD, “Dental Health and Tooth Discoloration, 5 June 2014”

12. Featured image: "Dental Assisting", University of the Fraser Valley, Source, CC BY 2.0.

13. Image: "Toothbrush, Be good for your teeth and they will be good for you", Digicla, SourceCC BY 2.0.

(This article does not aim to replace the advice of your dental professional in any way – Always consult your dental professional)