Common Myths about Oral Hygiene

By Dr Tamsyn Ooi BDS (UK)

We all know that sugar causes cavities and brushing hard will remove all that nasty stuff on our teeth. Or does it?

A lot of misconceptions about our oral health and cleaning habits exist, fuelled by what we see in front of the toilet sink (like bleeding gums after our flossing) and what we hear from people and the internet. As we discover and understand more about how the disease process works in our mouth, it comes to light that these dated misconceptions may ultimately lead us to detrimental habits and have a negative impact on our oral health.

1.    You need to brush very hard for cleaner teeth.

When brushing, a lot of us make the mistake of brushing too hard. Brushing too hard, with a toothbrush harder than soft, and with improper technique can result in stripping and abrasion of the softer component of your teeth, dentine. This results in abrasion cavities and can result in sensitivity to your teeth.

Always use a soft toothbrush, and if you are concerned about how hard you should be brushing, newer electric toothbrush models come with pressure sensitivity to inform you if you are pressing too hard.


2.    It is normal to see a bit of bleeding when brushing.

Bleeding is a sign of inflamed gums or gingivitis – healthy gums do not tend to bleed. The primary cause of gingivitis is due to plaque, and whilst brushing removes the bulk of plaque off the surfaces of our teeth, the spaces in between them are impossible to clean without adjuncts like floss or interdental brushes.

3.    Flossing is damaging our gums because they bleed when we floss them.

Following on from the previous misconception, flossing is not the cause of bleeding gums! On the contrary, bleeding gums indicate to us that we should be flossing more often, as we need to remove the plaque in between teeth that is causing the gums to be inflamed.

The proper flossing technique involves sliding the floss down between teeth, cupping the floss against the surface like a ‘C’ shape, and sliding it up the tooth to scrape any plaque off. Avoid ‘in-and-out’ rubbing motions whilst in the gum interdental space.

photo by Dr. Tamsyn Ooi


4.    I can use mouthwash to replace brushing at times.

Mouthwash hardly replaces true brushing, as mechanical cleaning of the teeth surfaces is vital to remove the sticky plaque that adheres to them. Mouthwash should only be used as an adjunct at times of the day other than when we brush, and at least half an hour after brushing our teeth.

5.    Sugar directly causes cavities

Sugar itself does not cause cavities – cavities need several critical factors to start forming, which are sugar, bacteria, and time. Plaque in our mouth harbour bacteria that metabolize this sugar and create acid as a by-product; it is this acid that breaks down the hard mineral of our teeth and causes the holes we dread to see in our mouth.

Time is important, as the longer, the sugar remains in our mouth, the more time the bacteria feed and produce acid that breaks down the surfaces of our teeth. Therefore, avoid habits such as grazing on sweet food or drink, and follow such foods with water to reduce the sugar left in the mouth.

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