Here are the real facts about teeth – and some myths Brits believed for decades

This week includes World Oral Health Day, so Amy Packer sorts the facts from fiction when it comes to the importance of caring for our mouths

Young children don’t need to see a dentist


More than half of children under the age of four – almost 58% – didn’t see an NHS dentist last year, according to figures from the Royal College of Surgeons.

Even young children need to see the dentist

Dentist Steve Preddy of Bupa Dental Care says: “Children’s oral health is so important but many parents don’t realise that children should begin seeing their dentist as soon as their first teeth start coming through.”

Always brush your teeth before breakfast


“Definitely before, particularly if you are drinking juice, which contains acids,” says Dr Uchenna Okoye, cosmetic dentist and Oral-B ambassador.

“Foods containing citric acid, like oranges and grapefruits, weaken tooth enamel. Brushing too soon after eating them can damage the enamel further in its weakened state.”

In fact, you should brush your teeth as soon as you wake. “If you do, you will brush away plaque bacteria that has developed during the night which could be fed by sugar or acid in food, causing further softening of the enamel.”

Mouth ulcers are harmless


While ulcers are usually more ­uncomfortable than dangerous, the sores which appear on the cheeks, lips and tongue should always clear up within a week or two.

But if a mouth ulcer lasts longer than three weeks you should get it checked by a dentist or doctor urgently as it may be a symptom of something more serious like cancer.

Gum disease can cause Alzheimer’s


Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer from Alzheimer’s Research UK, says: “While some studies have found higher levels of a bacteria linked to gum disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, in the brain during Alzheimer’s, it remains unclear what role, if any, it plays.

The effects of gum disease aren’t clear but it’s unlikely to cause Alzheimer’s (file photo)


“Diseases such as Alzheimer’s are complex and have various causes, but strong genetic evidence indicates factors other than bacterial infections are central to their development.

“Maintaining good dental health is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and while we don’t yet fully know the extent to which it can affect our dementia risk, the presence of a single type of bacteria is unlikely to be the only cause of the condition.”

Milk teeth don’t matter – they fall out anyway


“This couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Dr Okoye. “Your milk teeth act as a guide for your adult teeth to grow through in the right place. If you lose your milk teeth early due to factors such as tooth decay, the adult teeth coming through can go ‘rogue’ and start emerging in the wrong places, for example in the palate.”

Brushing without toothpaste is best


A study by the American Dental ­Association discovered that “dry brushing” – not using toothpaste – is more effective at removing plaque than brushing with toothpaste. Of 128 ­participants who tried dry-brushing over six months, 67% saw a reduction in plaque build-up, while levels for bleeding gums and gingivitis were also reduced by 50%.

Brushing without toothpaste seems effective too

But Dr Okoye says: “It’s really important for people to use toothpaste as it contains fluoride which protects against cavities and bacteria.”

Bad breath is caused by gum disease


While bad breath is often an indicator that you might be suffering from gum disease, it could also be a warning sign of other serious health issues.

Halitosis can be a symptom of acid reflux, a bowel obstruction, digestive issues or even diabetes.

So if someone flags up the fact you aren’t as minty fresh as you might be, make an ­appointment with your dentist first and if they give you a clean bill of health it may be worth booking in to see a GP.

Regular flossing can prevent heart disease


According to research funded by the British Heart Foundation, people with gum disease are at risk of developing coronary heart disease. When you have gum disease, up to 100 million bacteria can live on a single tooth.

It also causes gaps to form next to teeth, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Researchers have found dental bacteria in the heart, where it can attach to arteries and valves, as well as causing inflammation.

People with gum disease are at risk of developing coronary heart disease

This is a natural response to infection, but when it goes on too long, ­inflammation can damage blood vessels, including those in your heart, leading to coronary heart disease.

You can prevent problems by brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing daily, and looking out for signs of gum disease, such as bleeding gums.

Mints are the secret to fresh breath


Dr Harold Katz, founder of The Breath Company, says: “Unfortunately, all the gum and mints in the world won’t stop chronic halitosis. Sucking mints or chewing gum does serve as a good ­occasional short-term fix, but if they contain sugar they may only worsen the situation in the long run.

“Leaving sugar in the mouth for extended periods of time can lead to an accumulation of sticky plaque on the teeth and encourage the growth of bacteria.”

Poor oral hygiene can affect your love life


And we aren’t just talking about the off-putting effects of halitosis.

A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine ­discovered that men in their 30s who had periodontal disease were three times more likely to suffer from erectile disfunction than those without.

“This is likely because gum disease can cause chronic inflammation of your endothelial cells, which form the lining on all your blood vessels, including those in the penis,” explains Dr Katz.

“Impaired blood flow in those vessels can result in impaired function of the penis. So there’s even more reason to look after your teeth and gums.”

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