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Dear Patient: White teeth aren't everything

Aug. 15, 2023
In a world of constant photo ops, it's no wonder many dental patients' main focus is having a bright, white smile. But white teeth don't necessarily mean good oral health.

In a world with Instagram filters and AI photos, it’s no wonder that so many patients are seeking a bright white smile. But before investing in whitening products, you need to consider the health of your mouth.

Ask any dental professional; the number one question we get is how to whiten teeth. Recently, while on a trip with a group of dental friends, we got to chatting with a stranger. When she discovered we were in the dental field, she immediately asked us about the best way to whiten her teeth. My dentist friend asked her when her last dental exam was. She admitted it had been years. We could all diagnose cavities and gum disease after only a minute of talking with her, and yet she was only concerned about white teeth.

What’s that smell?

No matter the brightness of your smile, bad breath can have people politely exiting conversations. People with gum disease have a specific odor to their breath, one we dental professionals call “perio breath.” We can identify it the moment we walk into a room. With almost 50% of the population 30 and older having some form of gum disease, we smell it a lot. And if you have it, you might not even notice it.

Talk to your dental team about the health of your gums. Remember—healthy gums don’t bleed! Think about your periodontal health like you do the foundation of a house (it’s where your teeth live). You can have a gorgeous home, but if it’s on a cliff about fall into the water, you might need to call an engineer.

Cavity creeps?

Did you ever watch those movies in elementary school about the cavity creeps coming in and destroying your teeth? While the creeps in your mouth aren’t visible, there could be bacteria that are eating away at the outer layer of your teeth and beyond. Even the whitest tooth is not free from risk.

According to the WHO Global Burden of Disease, untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth is the most common health condition. Catching a cavity when it’s small is far easier (and cheaper) to fix than ignoring it until it causes pain, tooth breakage, or even becomes unfixable. When the decay travels into the nerve of the tooth, it can cause an infection that could be life-threatening. Yes, you read that right. You can die from a cavity.

Total body health

New science that connects your mouth's health to your overall health is constantly emerging. Neglecting your oral health isn't just about risking the appearance of your teeth; it's like inviting chaos into your body. Gum disease has been linked to a host of systemic issues, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and even complications during pregnancy. It’s fair to say that you can’t be healthy without a healthy mouth, no matter the shade of your teeth.

It's OK to want white teeth

As for those white teeth that everyone's after ... once you’re confident that you have a healthy mouth, talk to your dental team about what products and treatments they recommend. There are in-office treatments, home treatments, and a combination of the two. Of course, good home care will help eliminate surface stains, and avoiding staining food and drinks helps too.

While a dazzling white smile might catch someone’s attention, remember that good oral health is not just about white teeth. It’s about setting the stage for a life free from oral discomfort, ensuring your mouth can do its job, and safeguarding your overall well-being.