Brushing, flossing, whitening and cleaning—there are a lot of steps to take when it comes to oral hygiene. And with advertisements for products leading to pearly whites and fresh breath, you’re not crazy for feeling like you’re drowning in a pool of mouthwash. While most of us understand the basics to maintaining healthy teeth and gums, occasionally there is some confusion about all the additional aspects dentists and commercials throw at you: halitosis, supernumeraries and calculus (not the math), oh my!
Sourced straight from the dentists who deal with disasters every day, this game of fact versus fiction will keep you smiling wide.
“Flossing is a super important part of the oral care regimen—just as important as brushing,” says Victoria Veytsman, D.D.S., of Cosmetic Dental Studios in New York City. “As long as you’re flossing one to two times a day, you’re in good shape. Three times a day is great but not realistic for most people.”
“Teeth should be professionally cleaned on a schedule in accordance with a dental professional because various biologic and environmental factors make the accumulation of plaque and susceptibility to tooth decay more or less likely and expedient,” says Adam Salm, DMD, of Madison Dental Spa in New York City.
“Popcorn is low calorie food that may be healthy for your diet, but I’ve seen too many emergencies at the office from popcorn to recommend this as a healthy food for your teeth,” says Dr. Veytsman. “Restorations, crowns and veneers can fracture on the hard part of the kernel. I’ve also seen the kernel get stuck in the gum tissue of back molars. Eat in moderation, and floss and brush after.”
“Sugar and the carbohydrates that break down into sugar and starches can cause damage to our teeth if the bacteria from plaque is not removed daily,” says Jeffrey Rappaport, D.D.S., CEO and co-founder of Afora, a dental care membership plan. “When left on the tooth too long, plaque begins to harden into what is known as tartar. The acids produced eat away at our enamel, weakening the tooth structure.”
“Chronic long-term bad breath—when food and beverages cause bad breath that is not easily fixed with breath fresheners or mouth cleansing—can be the result of gum disease and the bacteria that cause it,” says Dr. Salm. “It isn’t always gum disease, though; bad breath can still be caused by anything orally consumed that is perceived as foul smelling.”
“Mouthwash has many oral health benefits,” says Dr. Rappaport. “Aside from leaving our breath minty fresh, mouthwash wards off decay and gum disease. Along with flossing, mouth rinse removes debris and bacteria from in between the teeth where toothbrushes can’t reach. Rinsing with warm salt water is also beneficial to help reduce gum inflammation.”
Sort of. You might need to replace your toothbrush after three months, but that’s not the rule. “The easy way to see if you need to replace your toothbrush is to look at the bristles on the brush,” says Maryann Lehmann, D.D.S, a dental consultant for GO SMILE. “If they are spread out and the edges are turned or curled, it’s time to get a new brush. Depending on your brushing technique, this can be every three to six months.”
8. Teeth Whitening Should Be Limited to Once a Month: FICTION
“In-office teeth whitening should really only be done once a year,” says Dr. Veytsman. “The hydrogen peroxide concentration is high and can cause sensitivity. Each at-home product is different, so read the directions carefully. If you are experiencing sensitivity, take a break from the at-home whitening.”
“Fluoride is important for strengthening exposed root surfaces, which is very common in most adults, as well as the area around fillings and crowns,” says Dr. Lehmann. “Exposed root surfaces do not have any enamel covering, making them much softer and more susceptible to erosion and decay. The area around fillings and crowns have edges, or margins, that can allow microleakage into these same root surfaces or the inner part of the tooth, dentin. Fluoride helps to strengthen these weaker parts of the tooth and prevent decay or breakdown.”
“Wisdom tooth removal is recommended if and when they are problematic,” says Dr. Rappaport. “Often patients do not have enough room in their mouth to accommodate third molars when they begin to erupt, between the ages of 17 and 21. Wisdom teeth are also extracted if they only come in partially and the patient has difficulty cleaning around them.” Dr. Lehmann points out that if wisdom teeth grow in just like all the other molars, and they are accessible to brush and floss, there is no need to remove them. “In these cases, the person has 4 more molars for chewing and biting,” she says. According to Dr. Salm, you might not even have wisdom teeth, which is also totally fine.
Hilary Sheinbaum is a travel, health, food and lifestyle writer.