19 Facts and Myths about Teeth

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Teeth are essential yet often overlooked parts of our bodies. Constantly in use, their intricate structures and functions usually go unnoticed. Throughout history, teeth have intrigued people, giving rise to various myths and misconceptions, especially in times when dental knowledge was limited. This resulted in numerous tales and mistaken beliefs about teeth and dental care. Today, despite significant advancements in understanding teeth and their care, some old myths still linger.

In this article, we aim to shed light on these matters by exploring 19 interesting facts and myths about teeth, helping to distinguish between what’s true and what’s merely a dental myth.

Facts About Teeth

Enamel is the Hardest Substance in the Human Body 

Tooth enamel, the outermost layer of our teeth, is renowned for being the hardest substance in the human body, even surpassing the strength of bones. This exceptional durability is attributed to its composition, which is predominantly made up of hydroxyapatite, a crystalline structure composed of calcium and phosphate. The high mineral content in enamel gives it the unparalleled hardness necessary to protect our teeth from the daily challenges of biting, chewing, and grinding.

Despite its hardness, enamel is not invincible. It’s vulnerable to erosion from acidic foods and drinks, as well as from the byproducts of bacteria in the mouth that thrive on sugar. Unlike other tissues in the body, enamel does not contain living cells, so once it is damaged or eroded, it cannot regenerate or repair itself. This irreplaceability makes it all the more crucial to maintain good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups.

Worth Knowing

Worth Knowing

Enamel is made up of tightly bunched, oblong crystals that are about 1,000 times smaller in width than human hair.

Teeth are Unique Like Fingerprints 

Teeth, much like fingerprints, are unique to each individual. This uniqueness is not just in the way they appear visually, but also in their structural composition. No two people, including identical twins, have the same set of teeth. This distinctiveness arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While genetics play a major role in determining the initial layout and structure of our teeth, environmental factors such as dental wear and tear, personal habits, and dental work (like fillings and braces) further individualize our dental profiles over time. The distinctiveness of our dental profiles makes dental records extremely valuable, particularly in forensic science for identification when fingerprints are not available.

Babies are Born with Teeth Below the Gums 

Babies begin their journey of dental development long before they make their appearance in the world. The formation of baby teeth, also known as milk teeth or primary teeth, starts in the embryonic stage, laying the foundation for dental growth below the gums. By the time a baby is born, the crowns of the primary teeth are almost fully formed, hidden beneath the gum line, waiting to erupt.

Typically, these milk teeth start to emerge when a child reaches about 6 months old, although this can vary. The emergence of these teeth follows a general pattern, usually beginning with the lower front teeth (central incisors), followed by the upper front teeth. By the age of 3, most children will have a full set of 20 primary teeth. 

Saliva is Crucial for Oral Health 

Saliva is essential for oral health, serving as a natural defense against dental problems. It washes away food particles, preventing them from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to plaque and tooth decay. Saliva also neutralizes harmful acids produced by these bacteria, protecting the enamel from erosion.

Beyond cleaning, saliva aids in the digestion process by moistening food for easier chewing and swallowing. It contains enzymes and proteins that combat oral pathogens, reducing infection risks. Additionally, saliva is crucial for the remineralization of teeth, supplying minerals like calcium and phosphate to repair and strengthen tooth enamel.

Dry mouth, a condition characterized by reduced saliva production, can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Therefore, maintaining sufficient saliva flow is key to oral health.

Diet Affects Oral Health 

Diet significantly impacts oral health, particularly with the consumption of sugary and acidic foods and drinks. These substances interact with bacteria in dental plaque, producing acids that erode tooth enamel and increase the risk of cavities. Frequent consumption of such foods can exacerbate this issue, especially sticky or chewy sweets that linger on the teeth.

On the flip side, certain foods can benefit oral health. Dairy products like milk and cheese, rich in calcium and phosphates, aid in remineralizing and strengthening tooth enamel. Crunchy fruits and vegetables help clean teeth surfaces and stimulate saliva production, which neutralizes harmful acids and cleanses the mouth.

Gum Disease Can Affect Overall Health 

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, has been linked to several systemic health issues, notably heart disease and diabetes. The inflammation and bacteria from gum disease can enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to arterial inflammation and contributing to heart conditions like heart attacks or strokes. This relationship is especially concerning for individuals with diabetes, as gum disease can worsen blood glucose control, exacerbating diabetes symptoms.

Furthermore, gum disease is associated with other health problems such as respiratory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and complications in pregnancy, including preterm birth and low birth weight.

Worth Knowing

According to the World Health Organization, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases, affecting up to 90% of children and the vast majority of adults worldwide. 

Wisdom Teeth Can Cause Problems

Wisdom teeth, the last set of molars that typically emerge in late teens or early adulthood, often cause issues due to insufficient space in modern human jaws. This lack of space can lead to impaction, where wisdom teeth don’t fully emerge or align correctly, potentially causing pain, swelling, and infection. Misaligned wisdom teeth can also crowd or damage adjacent teeth, disrupt normal bite, and complicate oral hygiene, increasing the risk of decay and gum disease.

In some cases, impacted wisdom teeth can lead to cysts or tumors, necessitating more complex surgical interventions. Due to these risks, dentists often recommend the removal of problematic wisdom teeth to prevent future dental complications.

See also: Does a Root Canal Hurt with Laughing Gas? 

Tooth Decay is the Most Common Disease

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, holds the dubious distinction of being the second most common disease worldwide, surpassed only by the common cold. This widespread health issue affects people of all ages and backgrounds, making it a significant concern for global public health.

This prevalent condition arises when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode tooth enamel, leading to cavities. Factors contributing to its widespread occurrence include inadequate oral hygiene, diets high in sugars and acids, and limited access to dental care.

See also: How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated: Risks and Consequences

Worth Knowing

Dental caries is the most prevalent chronic condition worldwide. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2018, dental care expenses in the United States reached almost $136 billion, accounting for 3.7% of the nation’s total healthcare spending.

Fluoride Strengthens Teeth

Commonly found in various toothpastes and often added to public water supplies, fluoride is a key mineral in the fight against tooth decay. When teeth are exposed to fluoride, it gets incorporated into the tooth enamel, the hard outer layer of the teeth. This integration of fluoride helps to rebuild and remineralize weakened enamel, making it more resistant to acid attacks from bacteria in the mouth. This process not only strengthens teeth but also helps to reverse the early signs of tooth decay, such as white spots or early lesions on the enamel.

Myths About Teeth

Sugar is the Only Cause of Cavities 

The belief that sugar is the sole cause of cavities is a simplification. In reality, cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth feeding on various carbohydrates, not just sugar. These bacteria produce plaque, a sticky film on teeth, and as they digest these carbohydrates, they release acids that erode tooth enamel, leading to cavities.

The frequency of consuming sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods also plays a crucial role in cavity formation. Frequent exposure to these foods gives bacteria more opportunities to produce harmful acids. Hence, managing the frequency of sugar intake is just as important as the amount consumed.

Whiter Teeth are Healthier Teeth 

The myth that whiter teeth are necessarily healthier is a misconception. Tooth color naturally varies among individuals and doesn’t directly indicate health. Factors like enamel thickness, underlying dentin color, and lifestyle habits (such as diet and smoking) can influence tooth color. While stains might affect appearance, they don’t always reflect dental health.

Conversely, extremely white teeth may result from excessive bleaching, which can weaken enamel and increase sensitivity. Healthy teeth can have minor imperfections or discoloration but still be free from decay or gum disease. The true markers of dental health are the absence of pain, sensitivity, cavities, and gum disease, rather than the shade of the teeth.

You Should Brush Immediately After Every Meal 

The common advice to brush teeth immediately after every meal, while well-intentioned, can sometimes be counterproductive, particularly after consuming acidic foods and beverages. The reason lies in the way our teeth react to the acids in our diet. Foods and drinks with high acidic content, such as citrus fruits, soda, and wine, can temporarily soften the enamel, the protective outer layer of the teeth, making the teeth more susceptible to decay and sensitivity.

To mitigate this risk, it’s often advised to wait about 30 minutes after eating before brushing. This waiting period allows saliva, a natural neutralizer of acid in the mouth, to work effectively. Saliva helps to remineralize the enamel and restore the mouth to its normal pH balance. By waiting, you give your saliva sufficient time to neutralize the acids and for the enamel to re-harden, making it safer to brush without causing damage.

See also: Should You Brush the Roof of Your Mouth?

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Source: https://www.drwilliammckenzie.com/

The More You Brush, the Healthier Your Teeth 

The belief that more frequent brushing leads to healthier teeth is not entirely accurate. Over-brushing or brushing too hard can actually harm dental health. Excessive brushing can wear down tooth enamel, the protective outer layer of teeth, making them more susceptible to decay and sensitivity. Aggressive brushing can also damage gum tissue, leading to gum recession and increasing the risk of gum disease.

The key is to brush gently and effectively, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and focusing on all areas of the mouth for about two minutes, twice a day. This approach removes plaque and food particles without causing damage to the enamel or gums.

Flossing is Not Necessary

Contrary to the myth that flossing isn’t necessary, it’s actually a crucial part of oral hygiene. Flossing effectively removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line, areas where a toothbrush can’t reach. This helps prevent plaque buildup, which can harden into tartar and lead to gum disease and tooth decay. Regular flossing also plays a vital role in preventing gingivitis, a form of gum disease characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, and can progress to more severe conditions affecting the teeth’s supporting structures. Additionally, flossing helps maintain fresh breath by removing trapped food particles that can cause odors.

Bleeding Gums Are Normal

While occasional bleeding can occur, especially with new or vigorous brushing and flossing routines, regular bleeding is a warning sign and often indicates gum disease. The initial stage, gingivitis, is marked by swollen, tender gums that may bleed easily and is usually caused by plaque buildup. If untreated, it can advance to periodontitis, a more severe form leading to significant tissue and bone damage, and eventually, tooth loss.

Bleeding gums could also signal other health concerns, including vitamin deficiencies, hormonal changes, certain medical conditions, or medication effects. Therefore, frequent gum bleeding should not be overlooked.

You Don’t Need to Visit the Dentist Unless You Have a Problem

Regular dental checkups are essential for maintaining oral health, as they enable early detection and treatment of issues before they become serious. These visits often include professional cleanings that remove plaque and tartar build-up, reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease.

During checkups, dentists also screen for oral cancer and other potential problems, offering an opportunity for early intervention. Furthermore, they provide personalized advice on oral hygiene practices and can address specific concerns or risks. Skipping regular dental appointments can lead to undetected issues that might require more complex and costly treatments in the future.

See also: How Often Should You Get Your Teeth Cleaned – Facts and Myths about Dental Cleaning

Oral Health Doesn’t Affect Pregnant Women

The notion that oral health doesn’t affect pregnant women is incorrect. Pregnancy brings hormonal changes that can significantly impact oral health. These changes can increase the risk of pregnancy gingivitis, characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, which, if untreated, can progress to more severe gum disease.

There’s also evidence suggesting a link between gum disease in pregnant women and adverse outcomes such as premature births and low birth weight. Moreover, pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting can lead to enamel erosion due to stomach acid exposure, while altered eating habits may increase the risk of tooth decay.

Worth Knowing

The study published in BMC Pregnancy Childbirth revealed that only 20% of the women surveyed underwent an oral examination before becoming pregnant, while 38.5% did so intentionally after confirming their pregnancy. 24% of the participants cited a lack of awareness regarding the importance of maintaining proper oral hygiene during pregnancy.

Children’s Cavities Aren’t a Big Deal Since Baby Teeth Fall Out

Cavities in baby teeth can lead to several problems. These primary teeth play a vital role in a child’s development, aiding in proper chewing, nutrition, speech, and maintaining space for permanent teeth. Cavities can cause pain, infection, and potentially affect the health of emerging permanent teeth.

Moreover, untreated cavities can lead to premature tooth loss, which may result in misalignment of permanent teeth. This early exposure to dental decay can also create a long-term predisposition to oral health issues. Additionally, oral infections from cavities can impact overall health.

Teeth Grinding is Harmless

Chronic teeth grinding can cause significant dental issues, including the wearing down of tooth enamel, leading to increased sensitivity and a higher risk of cavities. It can also cause tooth damage such as chipping, fracturing, or even loss, and may harm dental restorations.

Beyond the teeth, bruxism can affect the jaw, potentially leading to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. These disorders are marked by jaw pain, difficulty in jaw movement, and sometimes a clicking or popping sound. Chronic teeth grinding is also associated with headaches, particularly upon waking, as well as muscle soreness and stiffness in the face, neck, and shoulders.

Sources

Evans, C., Complexity of human tooth enamel revealed at atomic level in NIH-funded study; National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Available online at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/complexity-human-tooth-enamel-revealed-atomic-level-nih-funded-study

Radwan-Oczko, M., Hirnle, L., Szczepaniak, M., Duś-Ilnicka, I., How much do pregnant women know about the importance of oral health in pregnancy? Questionnaire-based survey; BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2023; DOI: 10.1186/s12884-023-05677-4. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10182644/

Moussa, D. G., Ahmad, P., Mansour, T. A., Siqueira, W. L., Current State and Challenges of the Global Outcomes of Dental Caries Research in the Meta-Omics Era. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2022; 12: 887907. DOI: 10.3389/fcimb.2022.887907. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9247192/

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco

Iza Wojnarowski

Content contributor

Iza is a dedicated content contributor for Toothific. Having worn braces twice and currently using Invisalign to correct a mild overbite, Iza brings a unique perspective to her writing. She spends her time staying updated on the latest dental trends and treatments, ensuring her readers have the most current information for their dental care needs.

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