Don't be fooled about your teeth and gums!

March 28, 2002
In order to help consumers distinguish between fact and fallacy regarding oral hygiene, the AAP has identified and addressed below the most common misconceptions about oral health.

"Your shoe lace is untied," or "Look! A flock of geese" are just a few of the innocent tricks Americans play on friends on April 1. While most of these practical jokes are just fun and games, the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) doesn't want you to be fooled about taking care of your teeth and gums, which could negatively affect your teeth in the years to come.

"There are still many myths about oral health that people truly believe," said Dr. Kenneth Bueltmann, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "If we can dispel these myths and educate children and adults about the real facts of proper oral hygiene, we might be able to help save teeth and produce a lifetime of smiles."

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Oral Health in America Report, more than 50 percent of 5-9 year-old children have at least one cavity or filling, and that proportion increases to 78 percent among 17-year olds. Additionally, more than 75 percent of adults over age 35 have a form of periodontal disease, serious bacterial gum infections that destroy the attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold your teeth in your mouth.

"There's no tomfoolery when it comes to taking care of your mouth," said Bueltmann. "Dental cavities and periodontal disease are the number one reason for tooth loss. Knowing how to identify potential problems and incorporating a daily hygiene regimen of brushing and flossing could prevent your chances of tooth decay, tooth loss and other illnesses that may be linked to infections of the mouth."

In order to help consumers distinguish between fact and fallacy regarding oral hygiene, the AAP has identified and addressed below the most common misconceptions about oral health.

Common Misconceptions About Oral Health
-- The primary reason for brushing is to remove food debris. Daily brushing and flossing will also keep the formation of plaque to a minimum. If not removed every 26 hours, plaque will irritate the gums, which can lead to periodontal disease.

-- Bleeding gums are normal. Bleeding gums are one of the eight signs of gum disease. Think of gum tissue as the skin on your hand. If your hands bled every time you washed them, you would know something is wrong.

-- Oral health doesn't affect overall health. When the gums are infected, periodontal bacterial byproducts can enter the blood stream and travel to major organs and set off other problems. Research suggests this may: contribute to the development of heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death; increase the risk of stroke; increase a woman's risk of having a preterm, low birth weight baby; and pose a serious threat to people whose health is compromised by diabetes, respiratory diseases or osteoporosis.

-- Bad breath is caused by a lack of oral hygiene. Excellent oral hygiene doesn't necessarily relieve bad breath. There are certain kinds of bacteria in the mouth that produce volatile sulfur compounds.

If these sulfur compounds build up enough, the result can be clinical bad breath, reports the American Dental Association. In addition to brushing and flossing, brushing the tongue (where the sulfur resides) can help eliminate bad breath

-- Cavities are the number one cause of tooth loss. Together periodontal disease and cavities are the primary cause of tooth loss.

-- Pregnant women should skip professional dental checkups. Periodontal health can affect unborn babies' health. Studies have shown an infection during pregnancy, including periodontal disease, is cause for concern and may increase the risk of delivering a premature, low-birth weight baby. The best way to avoid this problem is to visit a periodontist for a full periodontal evaluation.

Stress does not cause problems in the mouth. High levels of financial stress and poor coping abilities increase the likelihood of developing periodontal disease. Researchers found people who dealt with financial strain in an active and practical way (problem-focused) rather than with avoidance techniques (emotion-focused) had no more risk of severe periodontal disease than those without money problems.

A referral to a periodontist and free brochures titled "Periodontal Disease: What You Need to Know" and "How to Brush and Floss" are available by calling (800) FLOSS-EM or visiting the AAP's Web site at