Monday, 17 September 2012

The UK’s Top Oral Health Myths – Demystified

September is Oral Health month and to celebrate this year's event, Colgate have debunked some of the most common tooth-related myths - all of which (apart from the strawberry one) I have actually heard people saying, I have to say ! 

A few months ago, back when I told you about their Keeping Britain Smiling exhibition, they sent us through a fabulous goodie bag conatining a selection of their toothbrushes (the Max Power One Sonic Power brushes, with a vibrating polishing star, are brilliant - no rude comments please !), toothpastes and mouthwash. We've all been using them over the last few months and I have to say, my teeth do look particularly sparkly and white and feel really clean when I run my tongue over them.. 

Colgate have produced “The Healthy Mouth Manual” poster, that you can see above, and they have 1000 to give away to anyone who wants one if they email with their name and address  (first come first served).

This Oral Health Month, Colgate asked a panel of 250 independent dentists which were the most common oral health myths that they heard from their patients. Working with Dr Simon N Khoury BDS of Northway Dental Practice, Colgate wants to dispel the myths and help people have a better understanding of how to improve their oral health.

Top Ten Oral Health Myths

Myth One: When gums bleed it’s a sign that I’m brushing too hard

On the contrary, bleeding gums are a warning sign indicating that you need to pay more attention to your gums rather than avoid brushing them. Bleeding gums are one of the first symptoms of gum disease and should not be ignored.

Gum disease is inflammation of the gums, caused by bacteria in plaque (a sticky film that constantly forms on your teeth). Contrary to common misconception, even the smallest amount of bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth could mean you have gum disease. In fact, gum bleeding is the most common sign of gum disease, together with other typical warning signs including gum swelling, inflammation, redness and recession. The good news is that milder forms of gum disease are reversible if you visit your dentist and follow a good oral health routine - flossing once a day, brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and using an anti-bacterial mouthwash, at a different time to brushing, to help protect your gums. The more serious forms of gum disease require professional treatment by your dentist and/or dental hygienist.

Myth Two: Brushing too much can wear away the enamel

There is some truth in this, although only if you’re brushing incorrectly. Brushing too much, too hard or with a hard-bristle brush can, over time, erode your enamel. It’s also important to use an effective brushing technique to help ensure you are cleaning your teeth properly.
To brush your teeth, use short, gentle strokes, paying extra attention to the gumline, hard-to-reach back teeth, and areas around fillings, crowns or other restoration. Concentrate on thoroughly cleaning each section as follows:
  • Clean the outer surfaces of your upper teeth, then your lower teeth
  • Clean the inner surfaces of your upper teeth, then your lower teeth
  • Clean the chewing surfaces
  • Be sure to brush your tongue, too, as the soft tissues in your mouth also harbour bacteria
Proper brushing takes at least two minutes although most people do not come close to brushing that long. To get a feel for the time involved, try using a stopwatch. Finally, to protect enamel it’s important not to brush directly after eating acidic foods such as citrus fruits and fizzy drinks as that can also weaken the enamel; consider using fluoride mouthwash after acidic foods/drinks then wait at least 45 minutes before brushing.

Myth Three: Good teeth are inherited so there’s not much I can do
While that is a nice excuse to get away with not taking good care of your teeth it’s just not true. While the shape, position and, to some small degree, strength of your teeth may be influenced by your genes, the effectiveness of your personal oral care routine is the biggest factor by far when it comes to having healthy teeth and gums.

Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing, using mouthrinse at a different time to brushing and regular dental check-ups will help ensure you have healthy teeth and gums irrespective of the state of your parents’ teeth. Diet also has an impact. Eating lots of calcium rich foods such as cheese and milk and avoiding snacking on sugary foods between meals can help to keep teeth strong.

Myth Four: For every child you have you lose a tooth

A lot of dentists hear this from their patients who believe that during pregnancy the baby depletes the mother’s mineral supplies and makes the mother more susceptible to weakened and damaged teeth. This is a myth and is simply not the case. If the mother practices good brushing and flossing habits, they are no more likely to get cavities during pregnancy than at any other time.

Pregnant women are more susceptible to gum disease, however, and to minimise the effects of pregnancy gingivitis they should practice good oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes each time, flossing every day and using an anti bacterial mouth rinse also may help to control any gum infection. Ask your dentist to check the health of your gums during pregnancy. Dental check-ups are free for pregnant women on the NHS. Should you develop gum disease whilst pregnant it can be treated, and that may involve a professional cleaning by your hygienist as part of a course of gum treatment.

Myth Five: Rubbing teeth with strawberries whitens them
It would be nice to think that this is the case. There is some truth in this due to the fact that strawberries contain a natural fruit acid called muric acid, which can remove some surface stains, but it’s a very temporary effect. For longer term solutions, use a daily whitening toothpaste. If you’re looking to whiten your teeth permanently, then always visit a professional, however, be warned that whitened teeth can be subject to higher sensitivity as the enamel becomes temporarily more porous in the process.

Myth Six: Flossing is bad for your teeth because it makes your gums bleed
If your gums bleed when you floss, this is a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored. Bleeding gums are not normal and are one of the first signs of gum disease. Rather than causing the problem, if your gums bleed when you floss, it merely alerts us to the existing problem. In fact regular flossing helps prevent the problem by allowing the removal of plaque and food particles in the spaces between the teeth and gums in places where a toothbrush can’t easily reach, helping to prevent gum problems. As plaque build-up can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, daily flossing is highly recommended.

To receive maximum benefits from flossing, use the following technique:

  • Starting with about 18 inches of floss, wind most of the floss around each middle finger, leaving an inch or two of floss to work with
  • Holding the floss tautly between your thumbs and index fingers, slide it gently past the tight contact point between the teeth
  • Gently curve the floss around the base of each tooth, making sure you go beneath the gumline. Never snap or force the floss. Instead, use gentle deliberate movements to work the floss around your teeth and gums
  • Use clean sections of floss as you move from tooth to tooth
  • To remove the floss, use the same back-and-forth motion to bring the floss up and away from the teeth. Releasing one end and gently pulling the floss through can help to get floss out of tight spaces.
Myth Seven: Brushing directly after an acidic meal will reduce damage from enamel erosion
On the contrary, it’s best to wait a while after eating acidic foods because the acid weakens your enamel and if you brush straight afterwards you may be further weakening the enamel.

It’s best to wait 30 to 60 minutes after each meal before brushing to allow enough time for acidity to neutralise. Consider using fluoride mouthwash after acidic foods/drinks then brushing 45 minutes later.

Myth Eight: Rubbing your teeth with salt is better than toothpaste
No is the simple answer. The Department of Health guidelines recommend we brush our teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is a key ingredient to help strengthen and protect the teeth from decay. While salt does contain natural antiseptic properties, it is no substitute for using fluoride.

Myth Nine: Receding gums is all part of getting older, there’s nothing you can do about it

Receding gums are caused by gum disease and occurs when the gum tissue surrounding the teeth reduces exposing the root of the tooth. It can also be caused by overbrushing. While it is more common in those over the age of 40, it may start as early as in the late teens.

Gum recession is not something that happens overnight. In most cases, receding gums a process that happens gradually from day to day over the years. That explains the fact that it is common over the age of 40. As the changes in the condition of the gums from one day to another are minimal, we get used to the gums' appearance and tend not to notice the changes over longer periods of time.

It’s best to talk to your dentist about how to prevent gums from receding. If the cause is overbrushing then using a softer toothbrush and adapting a more gentle technique will help. Improving oral hygiene habits by flossing daily, using a mouthrinse, at a different time to brushing, and brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste will help prevent gum problems. A professional clean by your hygienist will also help by removing any tartar build-up which is preventing the proper cleaning of the gums.

Myth Ten: Eating parsley neutralises bad breath
While eating parsley can be effective if you’ve just eaten a strong smelling food, the most common cause of bad breath is poor oral hygiene. Bacteria that coat your teeth, tongue and gums can cause plaque build-up (the soft, sticky deposit that forms on the surface of the teeth), gum disease and dental decay. These bacteria combine with saliva and food in the mouth, breaking down food particles and proteins, which releases an unpleasant-smelling gas. 

If you do not brush and floss your teeth regularly, any food that is trapped between your teeth will be broken down by the bacteria, causing bad breath. These bacteria can also live in the rough surface of the tongue. Therefore, as well as brushing your teeth, cleaning your tongue can help control bad breath. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth can be warning sign of gum disease or tooth decay.

Throughout the month of September, during Colgate’s Oral Health Month, Colgate will be touring the country offering free oral health advice. Access to their dental team will also be provided online where oral health questions can be submitted and answered. Visit to have your questions answered and to find your local roadshow.


  1. I really don't like flossing but brush fairly well.

  2. I floss at least twice a day and find that my gums and mouth feel healthier. You can easily achieve white sparkling teeth by following a few simple teeth whitening tips at home. But this is very helpful post!