7 big dental health myths - debunked

There can be so much confusion when it comes to deciding how best to take care of our health and wellbeing - and, although the internet is a wonderful source for advice, alongside the many reliable health websites sit some pretty poor ones with guidance that's incorrect at best and dangerous at worst.

Conflicting health tips do not only cause a conundrum but also, follow the wrong guidance, and it can be detrimental to our health.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with dental care. For a start, there are so many treatments for teeth available these days - we have a whole menu of options from those that promise to improve our bite to others that will make smiles straighter quicker and make teeth whiter.

But, also to contend with are the conflicting reports as to how best to brush, when to brush and how often. If we then further add into the mix the many consumer sites selling their treatments (and, take note, not all of these are registered dental professionals) then it's no wonder we get confused!

To mark National Smile Month (18 May-18 June), dental hygienist and dental therapist, Melonie Prebble, separates the myths from the truth as she debunks some popular misunderstandings as to how to achieve a healthy smile. So, here she puts you on a safe path, dodging any of those bad dental habits along the way.

7 big myths about dental health

Myth 1: Beauty salons are excellent places to get teeth whitened

If you've got an appointment booked with a beauty salon to have your teeth whitened, cancel it now! It is illegal for beauticians to offer tooth-whitening treatments and it is SOLELY the practice of dentistry. This means that tooth whitening can only be legally performed by a dentist - or a dental therapist, dental hygienist or a clinical dental technician working to the prescription of a dentist, ie you have to see a dentist before you see the other dental professionals to receive the treatment. The rules are there to protect your teeth and gums. Dental professionals train for many years to understand how the mouth works, to recognise disease and to know what treatments best suit what patient and how to carry them out.

In the wrong hands, the chemicals used to whiten teeth can do serious damage to the health of your mouth. The General Dental Council (it regulates our profession) has made it easy for you to check whether someone is registered before you sign up for tooth whitening.

Myth 2: Rinse your mouth out with water after brushing your teeth

Many years ago, this was the advice a lot of us probably heard from our parents, but now we know better. 'Spit not rinse' is the basic tip here - toothpaste contains lots of useful ingredients and that includes fluoride, which helps to protect our teeth against dental decay, strengthens the tooth enamel and reduces the amount of acid that the bacteria on your teeth produce. So, after brushing, spit out any excess toothpaste by all means, but don't rinse your mouth with water or even mouthwash. You really don't want to remove any left-behind fluoride that can continue to look after your teeth long after your two-minute-or-more brushing regime!

Myth 3: Brush teeth immediately after eating

Park that thought right there! As tempting as it may be to grab your toothbrush and scrub away at your teeth straight after a meal to get rid of any food particles, this can only be detrimental to your dental health as it can do more harm than good. Brushing within 30 minutes of finishing a meal can weaken tooth enamel, especially if you've consumed anything acidic such as oranges, grapefruit and lemons - or even if you drink anything acidic. Instead, chew sugar-free gum - it stimulates saliva flow, cleans the mouth of food debris and neutralises plaque acids. When you do get around to cleaning your teeth a little later, try not to be too aggressive with your brushing. Far better to invest in a powered toothbrush that scientists have proved is a better, kinder option for your teeth.

Myth 4: Fruit juice and diet drinks are far healthier than the sugary option

Fruit juices - and diet drinks - are just as bad for your teeth as their 'evil' sugary counterparts! They cause 'acid attacks' on teeth and even pure fruit juices can contain large amounts of naturally occurring sugars that also have a negative effect. In fact, some fruit juice may contain more sugar than other soft drinks. Over a period of time - and if consumed excessively - these drinks can wear down tooth enamel, leading to cavities, sensitive teeth and, possibly, tooth loss. Limit your intake or, better still, stick with still water - it's by far the healthiest option!

Myth 5: Avoid brushing bleeding gums

Some people believe that when your gums are bleeding you shouldn't brush them and should simply let them heal on their own. This is wrong. Bleeding gums are not normal and are often an early sign of gum disease (gingivitis). Risk factors including smoking, diabetes, medications and hormonal changes in women (such as pregnancy). If left untreated, this can worsen and will develop into periodontitis (inflammation around the tooth) where gums shrink and pull away from the teeth, forming pockets that can become infected. However, if caught early, it is treatable. A regular appointment with your dental hygienist or dental therapist will mean they are keeping an eye on the health of your teeth and gums and can advise on dietary or lifestyle changes that will reverse the disease if necessary.

Myth 6: If my teeth look fine and there's no pain, I don't have to see a dentist

How often you service your car depends on its age, its mileage and the manufacturer's recommendations. Your teeth are the same. Experts at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that adults should be recalled for check-ups, depending on risk factors including alcohol, tobacco use and diet. So, they suggest every three months for those most at risk of dental problems and every two years for those with the lowest risk. It's wise to visit your dental team regularly even if you are not experiencing any problems with your mouth or teeth. Attending regularly helps you and your dentist, dental hygienist or dental therapist keep your teeth and gums healthy and pain-free. They will understand your needs and will recommend how often you visit based on their assessment.

Myth 7: Braces are for kids only

If you skipped the 'brace face' phase of childhood but have teeth that are crooked or an overcrowded mouth, all is not lost. Although orthodontic treatment is more popular with children (and often more successful), more and more adults are having treatment to fix a crooked smile or to correct malocclusion - or a 'bad bite'.

The British Orthodontic Society is a wonderful place to start if you're curious about braces and its website offers some great advice and information. As they put it, orthodontics is 'about improving the harmony of your mouth and jaws. Once you can bite together correctly, you can eat more comfortably and care for your teeth and gums more easily. And your smile will benefit immensely!'