Five myths and facts about keeping your teeth healthy

Teeth play a big role in our overall quality of life. Without them we can’t eat, we wouldn’t recognise ourselves and there is nothing quite like the agony of tooth pain.

We’re all aware that after we gain our adult teeth, any damage or tooth loss is potentially permanent because we can’t grow any replacements.

Believe it or not, the ability to regrow teeth over and over forever is quite common in the animal kingdom, but not for us. Famously, crocodiles and alligators replace each tooth in their mouths up to 50 times in a lifetime. Most toothed fish and even certain mammals such as kangaroos and elephants have also developed this ability, called ‘polyphyodontism‘.

Humans get just two sets of teeth in a lifetime, and the first is gone early, so it’s important to take good care of your teeth to ensure they last as long as possible. Regular brushing, flossing and rinsing with water or mouthwash is important, as is visiting a dentist at least once a year for a check-up.

Read: New tool in the fight to stop older adults losing their teeth

When it comes to keeping our teeth clean and healthy, there is a bit of misinformation out there about what you can and can’t do, so it can be hard to know what to believe.

DentaVox surveyed 5551 people about their awareness of certain lifestyle factors and the damage they could be doing to their teeth. The results were surprising. Here are five of the biggest myths and the most unknown facts about the health of your teeth:

Alcohol can dry out your mouth
Fact. This one was quite well known, with more than 82 per cent of respondents indicating they were aware that alcohol leads to dehydration. What was less well-known is that dehydration can be highly damaging to teeth as it reduces saliva flow. Reduced saliva means bacteria on teeth can’t be properly washed away, leaving them there to eat away at your teeth.

“Alcohol can act as a diuretic, increasing fluid loss in your body through increased urination,” says Melbourne’s Freedom Dental.

“One of the effects of dehydration is reduced saliva flow, which can make your mouth more prone to tooth decay and gum disease. In heavy drinkers, this can eventually lead to the salivary glands swelling and affect proper functioning. This condition is called xerostomia, or dry mouth.”

Read: Dental experts tell what happens to our teeth as we age

Alcohol kills all bacteria in your mouth, including plaque
Myth. At the other end of the alcohol spectrum was this gem. The theory goes that because alcohol is very effective at killing bacteria, it follows that it’s good at reducing plaque. Dental plaque is a sticky film of microorganisms that forms on your teeth and inside your mouth, usually on chewing surfaces.

DentaVox found 22 per cent of survey respondents thought this statement was correct but, according to dentists, this isn’t right for the same reason as the previous alcohol-related myth. Whatever bacteria-killing ability alcohol has is offset by the dryness in your mouth caused by drinking, so be sure to stay hydrated with water in between alcoholic beverages.

The only tooth problem caused by smoking is discolouration
Myth. Everyone knows the telltale brownish hue of a smoker’s teeth. But did you know that smoking causes a number of other tooth issues as well?

According to the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel, apart from discolouration, smoking can also cause gum disease, mouth cancer, tooth decay, poor healing after surgery, decreased sense of taste and even bad breath.

Read: What to do about sensitive teeth

Fibre-rich fruit and vegetables protect against cavities
Fact. A diet rich in fibre will do wonders in protecting your teeth. For starters, the tiny fibres act like brushes, scraping plaque and other impurities from your teeth while you eat. Most high-fibre foods require a lot of chewing to get them down. This works to inhibit the growth of bacteria inside the mouth by stimulating saliva production.

Chocolate washes off teeth easier than sticky lollies
Fact. This one sounds like it’s probably a myth, but it’s actually true. Sure, chocolate isn’t the greatest choice if you’re trying to protect your teeth as it contains a lot of sugar, but at least it doesn’t stick to your teeth in the way other confectionary will.

“If we compare chocolate with sticky candies, for example, one main difference between them is that chocolate washes off the teeth much easier and faster,” says DentaVox.

Had you heard any of these teeth myths? How do you keep your teeth clean and healthy? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer