Is gum disease uncommon? Is sugar the main cause of tooth decay? Only kids get tooth decay? Is bad breath necessarily a sign of gum disease? Is no pain no problem true (visit the dentist only when it hurts)?
Let’s answer those questions and debunk the myths about oral health. These questions are important to answer so that you’ll know the true things that can help you protect your teeth and gums. Let’s start.
1. Is gum disease uncommon?
Approximately 23% of the Australian population aged 15 and above has moderate or severe periodontal disease (a gum infection in which gingivitis is the early stage), according to a study conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (source). This means approximately one out of five people has a gum disease and there’s a good chance most of those affected don’t even know it.
Well, some people might not be inclined to visit the dentist unless they’re experiencing pain (we’ll discuss more about this later). Or, the focus has always been on the teeth and not on the structures that hold the teeth in place. However, the reality is that the condition of the gums could be equally crucial to that of the teeth. For instance, in periodontal disease (an advanced form of gum disease) especially when neglected, the bones, gums and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed (then the teeth eventually become loose and need to be removed).
2. Is sugar the main cause of tooth decay?
We’ve long since associated sugar and tooth decay. Eat sugary foods regularly and the inevitable consequence is you’ll get tooth decay. But is that all true and is sugar the only or main culprit?
First, sugar itself doesn’t cause tooth decay. It’s the bacteria that produce acids which then in turn causes the decay or damage to the tooth. Plaque build-up also occurs and if neglected can cause major tooth damage. Also, sugary foods are not the only things to watch out for because carbohydrates can also play a role. For instance, there’s an enzyme present in human saliva (it’s called ptyalin) that converts starch into basic sugars (which the bacteria can readily consume and process). In other words, eating carbohydrates (and not brushing afterwards) can also cause or initiate plaque build-up.
3. Only kids get tooth decay?
Another “myth” or popular belief about tooth decay is that only kids get it. Whenever we imagine tooth decay we instantly imagine kids smiling and then noticing what’s wrong with their teeth. After all, 48% of 12-year olds had experienced decay in their permanent teeth (with 2010 data gathered).
The truth is that tooth decay can develop no matter how young or old you are. As mentioned earlier, bacteria and sugars or carbohydrates (and the resulting acids) initiate or cause tooth decay. This can be slowed down through excellent oral hygiene (and professional dental cleaning to halt plaque build-up). Notice that this has nothing to do with age. Most adults still consume sugar and carbohydrates as part of their diet and due to fast-paced living and regularly eating out, bacteria has all the time and resources in the world to cause damage.
4. Is bad breath necessarily a sign of gum disease?
The short answer is no. That’s because bad breath can be a symptom of acid reflux, bowel obstruction or other related digestive issues. The smell might be coming from the stomach and not from the mouth itself. Although bad breath is one of the indicators of gum disease, it’s good to let the dentist figure out for sure to prevent worse problems (e.g. periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease).
5. Is no pain no problem true?
People are becoming more health-conscious and it shows with our wise choice of food and adoption of a more active lifestyle. But what about our oral health? Do we pay equal attention to our teeth and gums as with our overall physical health?
Dental problems often get ignored because often we don’t pay attention to them unless the pain is intolerable. But the truth is when you start experiencing pain, it’s likely that it’s too late or the problem is now something serious (and expensive because of potential lengthy treatment).
Also, our teeth and gums quietly work in the background every day and we only pay attention to it if the problem is already serious (the “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” attitude). But the issue is similar to how we treat our home’s plumbing and electrical systems. They work silently in the background but we panic whenever there’s a pipe leak or a tripping breaker.
But if the problem was prevented in the first place (regular dental visits), there’s no need to panic because we won’t experience a sudden serious dental issue. If we pay equal attention to our dental health as how we take care of our bodies and careers, the pain won’t manifest and there will be no disruption to our work or home living.