10 Common Dental Myths & Misconceptions

dental myths


by Dr. Cameron, D.D.S.

I have been practicing dentistry now for over 29 years, which means a couple of things:

One is… I’m getting really really old. The other is… I’ve heard and seen a lot of funny things from all the patients I’ve been fortunate enough to treat over my career.


So I thought I would write a short article on some of the the myths and misconceptions in dentistry, and although the list I’m providing in this post is by no means all inclusive, or in any special order, it is a sampling of the sometimes erroneous, sometimes funny, and sometimes just really weird things my patients have told me over the years.


So here it goes:

Myth #1

“Pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid seeing the dentist”

In fact, this could not be further from the truth. I encourage all women who are either trying to get pregnant, already pregnant, or recently pregnant and nursing to visit their dentist at their regular 6 month intervals, in some cases I may actually want to see them every three months! There are many changes that occur during pregnancy and many of them can manifest in the mouth. Seeing your dentist during this time will both keep you informed about your health, as well as reduce the need for emergency dental work during pregnancy through proper maintenance.


Myth #2

“It’s only a baby tooth… it will be replaced anyway. No need for my child to see the dentist”

FACT: Baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. A lot of parents are misinformed about this. Children need their teeth for the same reasons as adults, for proper chewing, for proper speech, etc. Imagine your child experiencing a severe toothache just because you haven’t brought him/her to the dentist before. Cavities on baby teeth should be filled and restored before they lead to toothache or infection. They also play a big role in guiding the erupting permanent teeth to the right position. If a baby tooth is removed too early (which can happen due to severe decay), the space for the erupting permanent tooth is usually lost resulting in misalignment. It is important to make sure that your child’s teeth are as healthy as possible. If a child isn’t having their teeth brushed and flossed, odds are they won’t develop proper habits to brush and floss their permanent teeth either, which leads to more severe and expensive dental issues as they get older. So all in all, it is more than just a baby tooth.

baby tooth

Myth #3

“You only need to go to the dentist if your teeth hurt”

You might be aware of the saying “prevention is better than the cure”. What is relatively less heard of is that diagnosing and curing a tooth problem at an earlier stage is much easier and cost-effective than if it were to be addressed later.

Even if you aren’t experiencing dental pain, I recommend seeing your dentist twice (or at least once) a year for regular cleanings and exams. Some dental issues are asymptomatic but can still cause infection and need treatment. If you were to wait too long, the treatment needed may be more expensive than if the disease were caught before it worsened. Also, the tooth has a lesser chance of being saved at a later point in time.

Altogether, prevention saves you both time and money in the long-run.


Myth #4

“My tooth was hurting a lot before, but the pain has gone away. I don’t think I need to see the dentist anymore”

(This is almost the same as Myth #2 I realize, but it is just slightly different enough and I have heard this so many times over the years it is worth repeating a similar message.)

Not only is this terrible advice, but ignoring any tooth pain or trying to “push through” the pain can lead to serious health consequences. Many times the severe pain of a tooth is caused by dental caries (or a cavity) that has reached the nerve inside the tooth. As the nerve gets infected, it begins to die which you feel as pain. Once the nerve has died, you will not feel any pain on that tooth. The infection, however, will remain and if left untreated can lead to an abscess, or the infection can spread to other areas of your body such as your sinus, throat, and even heart.

If you experience tooth pain, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.


Myth #5

“Root canals are painful”

This common belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Root canals, or more accurately, Root Canal Therapy, is the process where a dentist removes the diseased nerve and bacteria from within the tooth while disinfecting and finally sealing the space so that no future infection can occur. During the procedure the area is fully anesthetized so you should not feel anything while the procedure is in progress. Because we are removing the source of infection and pain, you should feel immediate relief after the procedure is complete. Typically only a slight soreness is present for the following hours up to about a day. In contrast, leaving a tooth untreated will lead to more pain in the future and may also lead to a larger infection that can affect your overall health as well as losing a tooth.

Don’t put off root canals for fear of pain!


Myth #6

“Place an Aspirin directly into a sore tooth or sore gum tissue”

You should never place most (if not all) medications directly on the sore area in your mouth. I mention Aspirin in particular because this is the one I have seen my patients actually do quite a few times over the years. This is an old at-home remedy, and it’s completely false. You should never put aspirin directly on or near an aching tooth. After all, you wouldn’t put aspirin on your forehead if you had a headache, would you?

The only safe and effective way to take an aspirin tablet is to swallow it. When you swallow aspirin, it gets absorbed into your body through your digestive tract. It then enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. Aspirin (as well as a number of other types of pain medications) works by stopping the production of prostaglandins, molecules that send pain messages from the injured part of your body to your brain. When the aspirin reaches your aching tooth, it inhibits prostaglandin production there, reducing the pain you feel. So even though it may be tempting to bypass the digestive process by putting the aspirin directly on your tooth, it just doesn’t work that way.  Also Aspirin is  fairly acidic and can cause actual burns in a patients oral tissues which can cause more pain then their original source of discomfort.


Myth #7

“I brush properly, I don’t need to floss”

Wrong…! Brushing cleans only 65% of your teeth. What about the other 35%? These are the surfaces in between your teeth which the toothbrush cannot reach (even if you use ultra-thin bristles). Only dental floss can remove food debris stuck in those areas. Neglecting to floss (which ideally you should do at least once a day) may lead to cavities you won’t even notice because… yes, you guessed it right… they’re formed in between your teeth and can be detected only by dental x-rays.  Also next to proper dental cleanings, flossing is a patient’s best defense against Periodontal (Gum) Disease, which is the #1 cause of tooth loss in my adult patients.

Myth # 8

“Oral health is not connected to the rest of the body”

Your oral health is connected to your systemic (overall) health and there are many correlations between your mouth and body. A mouth with severe tooth decay and periodontal disease is more likely to cause bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and result in other health issues. More and more studies are finding links between periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.  I often tell my patients , that if they had a chronic infection in one of their organs i.e. kidney, liver, it not only impairs the function of that particular organ but that infection has a high chance of spreading throughout the rest of your body.  Your mouth is no different.  I have read very sad and extreme cases of dental infections leading to brain abscess, these patients are often hospitalized for months, and they can be fatal, when all that was required was that a simple dental infection in one tooth had to be treated. Your mouth is part of your body …. it almost seems silly to say that in print, but for some reason some patients still fail to make that connection, and their overall health suffers needlessly for years at a time.


Myth #9

“The harder you brush, the cleaner you’ll get your teeth”

FACT: Brushing too hard or with too abrasive of a toothbrush (medium or firm) can actually harm your teeth by eroding some of the hard enamel that protects the inside of the tooth from cavities and decay. I see it so much where people feel like they’re getting them more clean, but they are actually wearing away their enamel and even their gums.  These patients have good intentions , but unfortunately they are just misinformed.  I have seen quite a number of patients who have done this, and they have caused considerable damage to their teeth and gums, and now require extensive treatments to try to save their teeth.  I always recommend a soft, or even an extra soft, bristled brush.  If you are wondering if your toothpaste is too abrasive… an easy way to check, is to seal if it has the “Seal of Approval”  from the Canadian Dental Association, if it has this, you are fine, if it doesn’t you may want to do a bit of research into the brand you are using.


Myth # 10

“You’ve been slacking on brushing and flossing and have a dentist appointment coming up. As long as you brush and floss well before going in, no one will know, right?”

The real deal: Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not getting away with anything. My hygienist and I can tell. Without regular brushing and flossing, hard tartar (calculus) forms around your teeth and at a certain point you can’t get it off with brushing alone. Plus, you can’t undo the inflammation in your gums that occurs when plaque and tartar have accumulated over six months with just a few days of flossing.  So…  “we kind of know when you’ve been bad or good”.  But the good news is, I always tell my patients your dental recall appointment is a great time to get back to your good habits of daily oral health care.


dr-paul-cameronDr. Cameron is a full time General dentist who practices in Antigonish. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors, and he has served on a provincial working group dedicated to the Oral Health of Seniors in our province.

By the same author:

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Mrs. Smiley

smiley face

by Dr. Cameron, D.D.S.

We often will ask a 7 year old if they brushed their teeth today? But we almost never ask a 70 year old this same question…





I started this article with the above question, because unfortunately more and more these days I often find myself asking both these groups and their care takers this question.

About 8 years ago in my practice, I saw a regular long-term patient of mine, she was 71 years old. She had been coming to me for her dental care for close to 20 years. She always had great teeth. She had been very fortunate to receive very good dental care through out her life and her oral hygiene and dietary habits were excellent.

During this one particular exam, this patient, who I will call Mrs. Smiley, seemed just a bit off to me, while I was talking with her before I started my examination. It was during her actual examination where I noticed a huge difference. Mrs. Smiley who had always had immaculate oral hygiene and nice teeth presented with a very different mouth then I was used to seeing. She had plaque and food debris all through out her mouth. Her gingival (gum) tissues were extremely inflamed, very swollen, red and bleeding. She was starting to get decay especially on exposed root surfaces she had on her teeth. After seeing Mrs. Smiley just about every 6 months, for the past 20 years, this came as quite a shock to me. I couldn’t figure out what had caused this change. I immediately sat up Mrs. Smiley, and started to ask her a few questions about her oral hygiene … but she seemed a bit confused and did not quite seem to understand what I was trying to ask her.

I then went out to the waiting room and I asked her husband (Mr. Smiley) if could come into my private office to speak with me. When I started explaining to Mr. Smiley what I saw during my examination, he was very surprised.

So I asked him, “When was the last time you saw your wife brush her teeth?”

He told me, Why she brushes her teeth 3 to 4 times a day, she has done this her whole life.”

Then I had to stop him and ask him again, but this time I asked him, “No, when was the last time you actually saw your wife physically in the act of brushing her teeth?”

When he took a few minutes to think about it, he told me, he can’t remember actually seeing her brush her teeth, but she must have been doing this. Sadly, I had to tell him that she was not, she looked like she had not brushed her teeth in over a week or so.

Even though I am certainly not an expert in dementia, one of the things I do know is that in the early stages of the disease, one of the traits that is noted, is that individuals will sometimes stop performing everyday basic hygiene tasks. Often times these traits start happening so gradually, that the people closest to them do not notice them at first. We are finding that members of the dental team, hygienists and dentists, can sometimes be the first health professionals that can spot some of these early changes that are associated with dementia. We know that cognitive decline has a very significant negative effect on oral health, which of course leads to a decline in the patient’s overall health.

Sadly, Mrs. Smiley did go on to develop dementia, and she was in the very early stages when I first noticed the decline in her oral hygiene. Due to the fact she was diagnosed rather early, and with a very good support system in place (her husband and her adult children), we were able to put into place an oral health plan which would greatly aid her in her oral health care. This plan included increasing the frequency of her routine dental recall visits, so we could provide better and more frequent cleanings and catch any small problems, i.e. cavities, early and treat them easier. She had her support group help her with her home care, brushing and flossing. But still… every now and then, someone has to ask Mrs. Smiley, “Did you brush your teeth today?”


dr-paul-cameronDr. Cameron is a full time General dentist who practices in Antigonish. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors, and he has served on a provincial working group dedicated to the Oral Health of Seniors in our province.

By the same author:

First Tooth, First Dental Visit

by Dr. Paul Cameron, D.D.S.

“When should I bring my child for their first dental visit?”

As a full time family dentist, I get asked this question a lot.  The answer I give these days is based on recommendations from the Canadian Dental Association, and that is…

“I see infants by age 1 or within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth”


When I started practicing dentistry 27 years ago, this was not the case. Dentists usually did not see a child until they were 3 to 3 ½ years old, because it was very challenging to get an infant to co-operate well enough at any age earlier.

During my career I started to notice that I was seeing a significant number of 3 year olds that already had lots of cavities, which concerned me.  I thought there must be something we can do as dentists to prevent this from happening.

In 2001, I attended a Continuing Education course in Halifax put on by Dr. Ross Anderson, who is the Chief of Pediatric Dentistry at the IWK Hospital.  He was starting an initiative to encourage dentists to see infants at an earlier age, by their 1st birthday.   I started to follow this philosophy almost right away ever since that course.    Dr. Anderson taught me how to do a thorough proper Knee-to-Knee oral examination” of an infant, and he taught me the important things to discuss with a new parent during that visit.


Knee-to-knee examination performed by Dr. Jennifer MacLellan, Paediatric Dental Specialist, IWK

Here are some of the key points

  • The child is facing the parent
  • The parent stabilizes the child’s arms and legs
  • The dentist stabilizes the child’s head on a comfortable flat surface (e.g. pillow)
  • There is constant communication between the child, the parent and the dentist

A complete video of a knee-to-knee oral examination can be viewed here.


Since that time, Dr. Anderson along with a number of other Pediatric Dental Specialists, have made this a National Issue, which the Canadian Dental Association has gotten 100% behind it and is actively promoting to all dentists across Canada.

One of the biggest challenges that I faced at first, was to actually convince the parents that the oral health of their infants was important and how poor oral health could really diminish how a child will grow and learn.  As I mentioned earlier, I was often surprised and dismayed when I saw how much dental disease was already present in my 3-year-old patients.   So now by seeing an infant at 1 year old, it gives the parent and myself an excellent opportunity to discover any issues very early stage and to have a healthy discussion on proper oral health care, including nutrition and home care.

The greatest reward from these early visits is to see the infant with their new parents get onto the right path to oral health at a young age.

There is a lot of information available to young parents on the Internet about oral health, but almost “way too much information”, and it is difficult to determine what information comes from credible sources.  Your dentist should be your “Go-To Expert Resource”, and there is nothing that compares to sitting down one on one with your dental professional to discuss the individual oral health of your child.

firts-tooth-full-pageEven after practicing for 27 years, I still get very excited to see a new 1-year-old patient on my day’s schedule.  To me, I know that is going to be a very productive and rewarding appointment with keen parents who want to do the best for their child, and as well it will be a fun appointment!



Paul Cameron, B.Sc., D.D.S. Antigonish, NS

Dr. Cameron is a full time General dentist. He is a past president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association, and a past Board Member of the Canadian Dental Association’s Board of Directors.