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Fact or fiction? 6 common dental health beliefs

Do you know the best way to care for your teeth and gums? We ask an expert for the facts on oral hygiene.

Angela Tufvesson
August 2018

From how often you brush, to bad breath and check-ups, we look at common beliefs around dental health and hygiene.

Claim: It’s best to brush twice a day

True: A recent report by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Australian Health Policy Collaboration found just half of Australians brush their teeth twice a day. Dental hygienist Dr Melanie Hayes (PhD), CEO of the Dental Hygienists Association of Australia, says you should aim to brush your teeth in the morning and before bed.

“You definitely need to brush your teeth twice a day,” she says. “Plaque and bacteria can build up on the teeth quite quickly, so it's really important to brush twice a day to keep [them] off the tooth surface and prevent dental disease.”

As for brushing more often, Dr Hayes says it’s up to you. “If someone had a personal preference for brushing 3 times a day, I wouldn't discourage that habit, but generally speaking, twice a day is sufficient to remove plaque and bacteria.” 

Claim: Flossing is helpful but not essential

False: Hands up if you tell a little white lie when your dental professional asks if you floss regularly? You’re certainly not alone, as only 17% of Australians regularly floss, reports the ADA. Dr Hayes says you should floss once a day to keep hard-to-reach spots in between the teeth clean.

“The toothbrush doesn't reach those areas… so it’s important to floss daily,” she says. “There's quite a lot of the surface of the tooth that's hidden in between the teeth, so it's really important to get something in [there] to remove the plaque and bacteria.”

If you’re unsure if you’re flossing correctly, ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you.

The ADA says kids should start flossing as soon as they have 2 teeth in contact, but parents will need to help them until they get the hang of it.

Claim: Tongue scrapers are a must-have

False: Tongue scrapers have been touted as a way to reduce or eliminate bad breath. You put the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue and gently bring it forward, repeating if necessary.

The expert verdict? Tongue scrapers can be helpful, but they’re not essential.

“A tongue scraper can be useful, particularly if you're noticing that you have a coating on your tongue or you're experiencing bad breath,” says Dr Hayes. “But you can also use your toothbrush to brush the surface of your tongue – there's no real need to purchase a specific tongue scraper.”

Claim: Fluoridated toothpaste is the healthiest choice

True: Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia, according to the ADA. But they say it can be avoided in many cases by regular, effective brushing with fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride helps to strengthen your teeth so they’re able to resist the bacteria and slow the growth of the plaque that causes tooth decay.

There are some herbal toothpastes marketed as natural that may not contain it “but most of the typical brands that you find on a supermarket shelf will contain fluoride,” says Dr Hayes.

Claim: A hard-bristled toothbrush is best

False: Both manual and electric toothbrushes can be effective at removing plaque. Dr Hayes says if you choose a manual toothbrush it’s best to choose one with soft bristles and a small head.

“A lot of people are under the misconception that they need a medium or a hard-bristled toothbrush, but the plaque and bacteria that adhere to the tooth's surface are quite soft, so it's more about having the correct toothbrushing technique than having hard bristles,” she says.

“Some of the toothbrushes that have larger heads skip over the teeth, but brushes with a nice small head tend to more effectively clean the tooth surface.”

Experts recommend cleaning your teeth for at least 2 minutes each time, angling the toothbrush towards the gum and brushing gently in a circular motion.

Claim: You should visit the dentist every 6 months

True: Only 55% of Australian adults have visited the dentist in the past year, reports the ADA. If you get reminders from your dentist every 6 months it isn’t a marketing ploy – it really is beneficial to have regular check-ups.

In many cases, you’ll see a dental hygienist for preventive care. “While dentists are trained to provide the full scope of procedures, dental hygienists focus on disease prevention through intervention [like plaque removal] and education,” says Dr Hayes.

“In most practices the dentist will perform the check-up and the hygienist will focus on removing the plaque and tartar from the teeth and providing education on how to prevent dental disease.”

“It’s a good idea to visit a dental professional every 6 months as a preventive measure to make sure everything is healthy and there are no signs of any oral diseases,” says Dr Hayes. “Sometimes your dental professional may suggest that you need to only come every 12 or 24 months, but that's based on individual risk and history of dental disease.”

Research has found your oral health can be linked with serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and dementia, so if you’re affected by these conditions it’s especially important to see your dentist regularly.

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