It's no myth that dental work can be a little scary sometimes. In fact, as many as 12 percent of adults in the U.S. say they get anxious about visiting the dentist, so if the thought of reclining in a dental chair makes you twitchy, you're not alone [source: Sohn]. Some people get so worked up about it that they choose to just stay away: According to a report by the Surgeon General's office, 4.3 percent of Americans are so afraid of going to the dentist that they simply don't go [source: Department of Health and Human Services].
With so much unnecessary stress and anxiety built up around dentists and dental health, it's not surprising that we've made up several myths over the years to help explain or even alleviate our dental issues. Sometimes we choose to believe these myths rather than find out the truth and, after a while, they can become so ingrained in our culture that it's hard to tell fact from fiction.
But when it comes to your dental health, having false information can be harmful. Here we'll "drill down" to the truth behind five common dental myths, some of which you may have even believed yourself.
Bleaching Weakens Teeth
We'd all like our pearly whites to be whiter, and sometimes regular brushing and flossing just doesn't cut it. Luckily there's a host of whitening products available over the counter or through the dentist -- from gels to pastes to strips -- to help fool Mother Nature and make our teeth look better.
But some people worry that using bleaching products on their teeth can be harmful or that they can weaken the teeth. Is there any basis behind this fear? Not really. Bleaching products are generally harmless if used according to the directions. That's because teeth bleaching only affects the color of the teeth, not their health or strength [source: Today Health]. Bleaching works by removing some of the teeth's pigmentation, and if you bleach them too much and remove too much of the natural pigmentation, your teeth might begin to appear translucent [source: Johnston]. Some people could mistake this translucency for weakening of the enamel or damage to the teeth, but that's not the case -- it's just a color change.
Brushing's Bad for Bleeding Gums
On the surface this myth might make sense -- if your gums are bleeding it seems logical that you would leave them alone until they heal. But when it comes to your gums, the opposite is true. When your gums bleed, it's a sign that plaque and food particles are accumulating along your gum line and the gums have become irritated and inflamed. You need to brush to remove the gunk if you want the bleeding to stop [source: Dillon]. Your gums might also bleed if you're flossing harshly or flossing for the first time, or the first time in a while, and your gums aren't used to it [source: WebMD].
The key is to brush and floss regularly and gently. Dentists recommend holding your toothbrush so that the bristles are at a 45-degree angle to your teeth, with the bristles pointing toward your gums. This is the most effective way to remove gum line plaque by brushing [source: American Dental Association]. When you floss, don't force the floss between the teeth -- instead, gently slide the floss back and forth, following the curve of the tooth, until it slips between your teeth [source: WebMD]. It may take some time, but eventually the bleeding and soreness will go away. If it doesn't, it may be a sign of a more serious problem and you should see your dentist [source: Dillon].
Bad Breath Means You're a Bad Brusher
Actually, bad breath can be caused by several factors, only one of which is poor dental hygiene. The foods you eat are a major culprit -- a stomach full of garlic and onions is bound to give your breath a foul odor, no matter how much you brush and floss. And what about sicknesses like pneumonia? Nobody wants to kiss you when you've got that, and it's not just because they want to avoid getting sick -- certain illnesses can give you bad breath as well. So don't be too quick to judge when that close-talking colleague offends with his foul smelling breath -- it may not be his fault!
And how about your own oral odors? As long as you follow the dentist's recommendation of brushing and flossing at least twice a day, and you visit your dentist at least twice each year for regular checkups, you can be pretty sure your bad breath is not a dental hygiene issue. But if you're still worried about stinky breath, ask your dentist about it -- he or she can determine if any odors related to dental hygiene or if they're caused by something else [source: WebMD].
The More Sugar you Eat, the Worse for your Teeth
You're just about to take a big bite of something decadently sweet, perhaps some sticky taffy or a double chocolate candy bar, when you hear a nagging voice in your head saying, "If you eat that, your teeth will fall out!" Sound familiar? Many of us can recall being told that if we eat too many sugary foods they will destroy our teeth. But did you know that the amount of sugar you eat is not the deciding factor in tooth decay?
The bacteria in your mouth feed on carbohydrates, like sugar, and produce an acid that eats away at the enamel of your teeth. The longer the sugar is in your mouth, the longer the bacteria can feed and produce acid, and the longer the acid can work on the enamel [source: Fries]. In other words, it's not about the amount of sugar you eat, it's about how long the sugar is in contact with your teeth [source: ScienceDaily].
This means that eating three candy bars, then immediately brushing your teeth, is less harmful to your dental health than eating one candy bar without brushing. Slowly dissolving candies, like lollipops, are also a bad idea, as is sipping on sugary drinks all day, since both situations allow sugar to hang around your teeth for a long time.
So the moral of this story is this: enjoy the sweets, but make sure you brush afterward!
An Aspirin Directly on a Tooth Will Relieve Pain
This one's 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 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 [source: National Institutes of Health]. 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.
Need another reason to put this ineffective rumor to rest? Placing aspirin directly on the aching tooth or your gums can cause an acidic chemical burn to your gums and lips. So if the pain of a toothache isn't bad enough, you'll have to deal with more pain when the aspirin leaves a sore in your mouth [source: Fries].
HowStuffWorks looks at the big diseases that may occur if you have rotting teeth.
- American Dental Association. "Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums." (August 31, 2011). http://www.ada.org/2624.aspx
- Department of Health and Human Services. "Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General." May 25, 2000. (Sept. 8, 2011)http://silk.nih.gov/public/hck1ocv.@www.surgeon.fullrpt.pdf
- Dillon, Kara, RDH-E. "Unveiling Common Dental Myths." (August 24, 2011).http://www.adams-county-health-center.org/articles-dental/article-unveilingmyths.htm
- Doheny, Kathleen. "10 Toothbrushing Mistakes." WebMD. (Sept. 1, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/brushing-teeth-mistakes
- Fries, Wendy C. "15 Myths and Facts About Cavities." WebMD. (August 30, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/cavities-myths
- Johnston, Lori. "Can Teeth Whitening Become an Addiction?" WebMD. (Aug. 30, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/can-teeth-whitening-become-an-addiction
- National Institutes of Health. "Medicines by Design." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Aug. 31, 2011).http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/medbydesign/medbydesign.pdf
- Sohn, Woosung, D.D.S., Ph.D., Dr.P.H. and Amid I. Ismail, B.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. "Regular dental visits and dental anxiety in an adult dentate population." Journal of the American Dental Association, Vol 136, No 1, 58-66. (Sept. 8, 2011)http://jada.ada.org/content/136/1/58.full
- Today Health. "Secrets Your Dentist Hasn't Told You." April 1, 2008. (Aug. 31, 2011).http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/23886665/ns/today-today_health/t/secrets-your-dentist-hasnt-told-you/#.Tl7Ayzsfxys
- WebMD. "Dental Health and Bad Breath." (Aug. 24, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/bad-breath
- WebMD. "Gum Problem Basics: Sore, Swollen, and Bleeding Gums." (Sept. 6, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/gum-problem-basics-sore-swollen-and-bleeding-gums