35 Secrets Your Dentist Won’t Tell You

What came out of their mouths will change the way you treat yours.

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dental secrets

Pain isn’t your biggest problem

Some truly educated people think that if nothing in their mouth hurts, they’re fine. High cholesterol doesn’t hurt, either, but it’s a big problem. I honestly think that the general population doesn’t understand that their mouth is part of their body.—Danine Fresch Gray, DDS, general dentist, Arlington, Virginia

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You don’t see me enough

The advice to see your dentist twice a year applies only if you have healthy gums. Most people don’t.—Chris Kammer, DDS, cosmetic dentist, Middleton, Wisconsin.

Find out the reasons why your gums bleed when you brush your teeth.

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You forget to brush your whole mouth

Many of my patients have periodontal disease affecting their back teeth, but their front teeth are fine. Evidently, they brush only what others see.—Joel Slaven, DDS, general dentist, Simi Valley, California

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Spend more time on your teeth

Proper oral hygiene requires ten minutes of brushing and flossing every day. The average adult spends two or three minutes total, and kids do even worse.—Joel Slaven, DDS 

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Yes, I know that you smoke

People who smoke try to cover it up with mints or mouthwash, but that stench is steeped into their gum tissue and the tissues in their mouth.—Jennifer Jablow, DDS, cosmetic dentist, New York, New York

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Here’s the deal with bad breath…

Brushing doesn’t go deep enough into the gums to reach the plaque that causes bad breath. You need to floss every day and get a cleaning every few months. If you do all that and still have bad breath, I start looking into diet and checking for health problems.—Ned Windmiller, DDS, general dentist, Stillwater, Minnesota. (Here are some remedies for bad breath.)

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Mouthwash isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

A mouthwash with alcohol dries out your mouth—you’ll smell nice and minty for a half hour, but then the bad breath can come back.—Gary Herskovits, DDS, family dentist, Brooklyn, New York

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Don’t stress about germs on your toothbrush

There’s no reason to sanitize a toothbrush unless you’re sharing it with other people. Those UV devices and other germ zappers are totally unnecessary.—Joel Slaven, DDS

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Know what’s in your toothpaste

There’s a limit to what toothpaste can do. New whitening formula? It can get rid of surface stains, but it can’t whiten like a bleach.—Careen Young, DDS, prosthodontist, Beverly Hills, California

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Get an electric toothbrush already!

The electric toothbrush is one of the best things to ever happen to dentistry. The newer ones replicate professional cleaning—they won’t reach much below the gum line, but they’re far superior to regular toothbrushes. The cheap ones are okay for kids, but you’ll have to pay more than $75 for a really good brush with a warranty and replacement heads.—Danine Fresch Gray, DDS

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I miss the old-school dental technology

I wish people still used the Waterpik (a water-shooting device that was popular in the 1970s). Each tooth is surrounded by a putrid, germy moat of saliva. If you replace that moat every day, you’ll go a long way toward keeping your mouth clean and your gums healthy.—Chris Kammer, DDS. (Learn the real cause of your receding gums.)

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dental secrets

I blame you when baby teeth go bad

It’s not unusual for me to see a beautiful little child dressed to the nines with teeth rotted down to the gums. And I’ll see teenagers from affluent homes with nine cavities. It’s just a total breakdown in parental supervision.—Joel Slaven, DDS

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dental secrets

Your own hygiene can affect your baby

The bacteria that cause cavities can be spread from mother to baby through saliva. If you have poor dental health and you taste your baby’s food and then pop the same spoon into his mouth, you’re putting him at risk.—Mark Helpin, DMD, pediatric dentist, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Your kids’ teeth are more important than they realize

Kids with dental problems often struggle in school. They’re distracted and easily agitated. Teachers will say they have behaviour problems, but they really have toothaches.—Winifred J. Booker, DDS

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Never underestimate baby teeth

I have to extract a lot of baby teeth that are abscessed or heavily decayed. Parents think there’s no reason to pay attention to baby teeth because they fall out. But when a tooth comes out prematurely, other teeth crowd in to fill up the space. Without the right treatment, it turns into a mess.—Paul Hettinger, DMD, general dentist, Orlando, Florida

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Use this trick when you’re whitening your teeth

Some people give up on tooth whitening because the gel irritates their teeth and gums. Just use a fluoride rinse or gel before and after—it’ll make your teeth much less sensitive.—Ned Windmiller, DDS. (Don’t miss the things dentists want you to know about teeth whitening.)

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Quit worrying about fillings

Amalgam [silver] fillings do release a small amount of mercury through wear and tear in the mouth. But you’d have to have about 300 fillings for the mercury level to get high enough to pose even the smallest risk.—Edmond Hewlett, DDS, prosthodontist, Los Angeles, California

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Still not convinced?

Taking metal fillings out can release more mercury than leaving them in.—Brody Hildebrand, DDS, orthodontist, Dallas, Texas.

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Some fillings are better than others

Composite [tooth-coloured] fillings are popular, but a metal filling is going to be more durable, especially for bigger jobs.—Brody Hildebrand, DDS

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Leave those fillings in your mouth!

I have amalgam fillings in my own mouth. There’s no proof that they do any harm. Convincing patients to remove their fillings for health reasons is quackery.—Michael Alkon, DMD, general dentist, Holmdel, New Jersey

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Soda destroys your mouth

I call soda pop the liquid chain saw. It cuts through teeth. And it’s not just the sugar—it’s the acid.—Chris Kammer, DDS

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I hate insurers, too

A few decades ago, most insurance plans would cover up to $1,000 or $1,500 in dental bills every year. Today, a single crown can cost that much, but most policies still have the same limit. People are getting teeth pulled that could be fixed because they can’t afford to pay for the work.—Bryan Tervo, DDS

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dental secrets

Not everyone takes my advice

Patients seem receptive to everything I say until I tell them how much it costs. I feel really good when patients accept 40 percent of what I recommend.—Joel Slaven, DDS

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Some insurance plans make no sense

If you’re missing teeth, chances are that your insurance company won’t cover implants—only one out of 22 insurance companies I deal with covers them, even though they’re better than dentures in every way.—Joel Slaven, DDS

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I can fix that headache

Misaligned teeth can cause migraine headaches. If we can align the teeth and fix the bite, the pain often goes away.—Mai-Ly Ramirez, DDS, general dentist, San Francisco, California. (In the meantime, find out exactly how much headache medication to take.)

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Your teeth can alert me to disease

One of the first signs of diabetes is bleeding gums. I started taking blood samples from all my patients with bleeding gums and bone loss around the teeth and discovered that many of them were diabetic or prediabetic.—Ron Schefdore, DMD

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I’m not a miracle worker

Teeth get whiter when they dry out. Some dentists promise that their office procedures will make your teeth four shades whiter. But if you leave your mouth open for an hour, you could easily be two shades whiter just from dehydration.—Careen Young, DDS

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I feel your pain

Everyone should be able to get basic dental care. At our public health clinic in the Shenandoah Valley, we see a lot of people who don’t have money, and some of them need to have every tooth in their head taken out. It’s like a Third World country.—Lori Wilson, DDS, general dentist, Petersburg, Virginia

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Anxious about the appointment? I have a solution

I tell nervous patients that we can give them the sedative triazolam an hour or so before their appointment—they just need to have someone else drive. It works so well that sometimes they don’t remember the appointment.—Chris Kammer, DDS

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Healthy teeth are sexy teeth

A study showed that tooth implants increase libido, probably because people feel much more confident without missing teeth or dentures sliding all over the place.—Jim Janakievski, DDS, periodontist, Tacoma, Washington

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Inadequate insurance coverage is a real problem

Many people without insurance don’t go to a dentist until they’re in a tragic situation. They could wind up needing $20,000 worth of work.—Paul Hettinger, DMD

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Choose your dentist carefully

Cosmetic dentistry works only on a healthy mouth—you can’t build a house on a swamp. But if you look around, you can find a dentist who will do cosmetic work without treating your gum disease first. There are a lot of incompetents and outright charlatans in my profession.—Joel Slaven, DDS (Here's how to prevent against gum disease.)

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Don’t buy anything you don’t need

I put in veneers for a living, but they’re really overused. At some offices, patients come in for a simple cleaning and are sold on the idea of getting veneers too. Veneers are excellent for making teeth longer, but if what you want is to get your teeth whiter, use a bleach. If they’re too crowded, get them straightened.—Careen Young, DDS

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You may get swindled

Some dentists will say you need a deep cleaning because they can charge your insurance company more for that than for a standard cleaning. But unless an exam shows you have a lot of tartar on your roots or other specific signs of disease, you probably don’t need it.—Careen Young, DDS

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Find a dentist you can trust

People assume that the more a dentist charges, the better the dentist is. But I see no correlation. Ask coworkers or friends and family for a recommendation, but make sure they’ve been going to their dentist for at least five years. It takes that long to know if crowns and fillings are any good.—Paul Hettinger, DMD

Medically reviewed by Susanne Jackson, DDS.

Now that you're all caught up on your dentist's dental secrets, check out these quick fixes for the most common dental emergencies.