As an RDH, I hear a lot of “facts” about teeth and gums and I feel the need to set the record straight on a few of them. These are three common myths that you may have heard, but rest assured that they are all just that – myths.
Myth: Bleeding gums are normal
Busted: If you washed your hands and they bled, would you be concerned? Of course! The same goes for your gums. Bleeding is the first sign of infection. Gums bleed because plaque, which is full of disease-causing bacteria, is accumulating where a toothbrush cannot reach to remove it. This is why flossing daily is so important. It reaches these areas, about 35% of your tooth surface, that tooth brushing misses, no matter how well you brush. The longer the bacteria accumulates, the stronger it gets, which causes more than just bleeding and inflammation. This bacteria can cause your gums and bone that hold your teeth in place to break down, and they don’t grow back. Also, when plaque sits undisturbed it can harden, causing more irritation to your gums and providing a home to this virulent bacteria. At this point it is called calculus or tartar, which can only be removed by a dental hygienist. This is why regular dental appointments are more than just checking for cavities! Not great at flossing? Be honest with your dental hygienist about it. Your hygienist can show you other options such as interdental brushes, water flossers, or simply showing you the correct flossing technique. Once you begin flossing, your gums may continue to bleed for a while; this is your body’s immune response trying to fight the infection. So keep at it daily!
Myth: If your teeth don’t hurt, they are healthy
Busted: Many dental problems, such as chronic gum disease and cavities, don’t hurt in the beginning stages. It’s once they have progressed to a point where treatment is quite extensive, not to mention expensive, that you actually feel them. For instance, a cavity tends to only hurt once it has reached the center of the tooth where the nerves are located. At this point, a filling won’t simply take care of the problem. Most times you may need a root canal and a crown, if the tooth can be saved at all. This is why detecting problems early, with X-rays and regular dental visits, is so important. Dentists and dental hygienists are highly trained to know when you need X-rays. Dental X-rays are imperative to diagnose potential problems, to check for cavities, and to monitor your bone level holding your teeth in place, among other things. Without them your dentist and hygienist are working blindly. You wouldn’t want a broken arm to be set without an X-ray to determine the extent of the fracture, right? Same goes for your teeth.
Myth: Oral health doesn’t affect overall health
Busted: Your mouth is connected to your body! In fact, many diseases can show their first symptoms in your mouth. This includes some autoimmune diseases and even HIV. Further, you are swallowing the bacteria in your mouth every day, all day. If you have gum disease, this bacteria can be harming more than just your mouth. Bacteria can enter your bloodstream and affect other organs in your body. Research is emerging every day showing links of bacteria from the mouth contributing to heart disease and stroke risk to rheumatoid arthritis, pre-term and low birth weight babies, even Alzheimer’s disease and the ability to control blood sugar levels in diabetes. Infection in your mouth = problems for your whole body, so take care of your mouth!