Fiction: There’s Nothing You Can Do if You’re Cavity-Prone
Nope. There’s plenty you can do. Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Also, ask your dentist about sealants, protective coatings that reduce cavities by bonding to the pits and fissures of chewing surfaces. Fluoride rinses used after brushing may also be helpful. (Look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance). If you can’t brush after meals or snacks, chew sugar-free xylitol gum. This natural sweetener found in plants and fruits can inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
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Fact: Most People Don’t Brush Correctly
Even though we’ve been doing it since we were kids, most of us don’t brush long enough, often enough or with the correct technique. “You have to brush a minimum of two to three minutes, twice a day, to knock down decay-causing bacteria,” says Mark Malterud, D.D.S., spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. To do it correctly, use a soft-bristled brush with a pea-sized dab of toothpaste. Angle the brush toward the gumline, making short, circular movements on the inside, outside and top of your teeth and gums. “And don’t forget your tongue because it harbors plenty of bacteria, too,” says Malterud. If you use an electric toothbrush, don’t push too hard -- you could erode the enamel or injure your gums.
Fiction: Tooth Sensitivity Is Normal
If you have sensitivity to hot or cold drinks and food, or you feel pain when you bite down on something, a visit to the dentist is in order. “Tooth sensitivity is never normal,” says Dr. Malterud. “It’s an indication that there’s some underlying issue such as a cracked tooth or cavity and should be evaluated by your dentist.” Sensitivity may also be caused by tooth whitening products, excessive consumption of acid-containing foods, soft drinks, acid reflux and tooth grinding or clenching. (If you've had a recent restoration, like a filling or crown the pain should calm down in a few weeks). A desensitizing toothpaste may help, but don’t expect immediate relief. You’ll need to use it for a month to see results.
Fact: Flossing Isn't Optional
Flossing breaks up the bacteria colonies that constantly multiply in your mouth, especially in the places where the toothbrush can’t reach. “Brushing but not flossing is sort of like washing only the tops of your hands,” says Ruchi K. Sahota, D.D.S., spokesperson for the the American Dental Association (ADA). Floss at least once a day. At the gumline, curve the floss into a C-shape and slide it against each tooth in up and down motions. If this feels awkward, try pre-threaded floss holders, interdental picks or electric flossers. Water picks may help if you have gum disease (your dentist can prescribe antibacterial solutions to use in them) or have braces, which hide food. Still, they aren't a substitute for flossing because they don’t remove plaque, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
Fiction: You Should Avoid the Dentist While You’re Pregnant
Absolutely incorrect, says Malterud. Regular exams and cleanings should be done throughout pregnancy. Hormonal changes can affect the way your gums react to plaque, leading to gingivitis, which causes red, swollen and sometimes bleeding gums. Because gingivitis has been linked to low-birth-weight babies and preterm delivery, your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings during pregnancy to reduce this risk. And don’t worry: It’s also a myth that your teeth lose calcium or that a tooth will fall out during pregnancy.
Fact: Toothpaste Is a Matter of Preference
With so many kinds of toothpastes, you may wonder if one is better than another. Don’t sweat it. As long as the toothpaste contains fluoride, which makes teeth more impervious to decay, the brand or formula doesn’t matter. Look for toothpaste that has the ADA Seal of Approval which means it meets ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Tartar-control toothpaste may reduce how much tartar (buildup of hardened plaque) accumulates on teeth, but some people experience sensitivity after using it. Whitening toothpastes help remove stains but they may also cause sensitivity.
Fiction: Silver Fillings Should Be Replaced
Dentists have used silver-colored amalgam fillings -- made of a blend of mercury, silver, copper and other metals -- for more than a century. From time to time there are anecdotal accounts that suggest the tiny amount of mercury content in these fillings may be associated with neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, but health organizations including the American Dental Association and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say amalgam fillings are safe. Ongoing research hasn't found compelling evidence that these type of filling cause health problems, so replacing them is not recommended. “I don’t remove them unless there’s new decay that must be restored,” says Dr. Sahota. In fact, many dentists still use amalgam because it’s easy to work with, cost-effective and durable.
Fact: Oral Health Can Affect Your Overall Health
Dentists can tell how healthy you are just by looking in your mouth. For example, periodontal disease, a chronic inflammation of the gums and tissues that support the teeth, has been linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to preterm births and low birth weight. Periodontal disease may also increase the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “By seeing your dentist twice a year, he or she can monitor changes in your mouth that may indicate underlying health issues so they can be treated in a timely manner,” says Sahota.
Fiction: An Aspirin on the Gum Line Relieves a Toothache
Forget this old home remedy; you’ll burn sensitive gum tissue. If you have a toothache, swish with warm salt water, floss, then gently brush your teeth to dislodge any trapped food and take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Pain-relieving oral gels containing benzocaine or oil of cloves may also ease pain temporarily. Most importantly, see your dentist as soon as possible. Toothaches may be caused by infection, gum disease, grinding or clenching. They can also be a sign of a sinus or ear infection. Jaw pain could even be angina, a symptom of heart disease that causes discomfort when the heart doesn't get enough blood.
Fact: You Should Feel Comfortable With Your Dentist
Not many of us look forward to going to the dentist, but it shouldn’t be a miserable experience. “We’re working on living tissue while you’re sitting there in the chair awake,” says Malterud. “As dentists, we must be sensitive to your feelings and any preconceived issues you may bring to that chair.” In order to feel more control over the situation, bring some music, do deep breathing exercises and use hand signals to tell your dentist if you’re uncomfortable. If you’re nervous, let your dentist know before he starts the exam. If necessary, get recommendations from family and friends to find a new dentist with whom you’re more at ease.
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