Dental Care: Myths and Legends in Dentistry

Curious Beliefs

It is strange how the teeth seem to figure in myths and legends throughout history. They occupy some deep area of anxiety in our subconscious as well as causing many of us concern in our working hours. People often have dreams in which the loss or damage of teeth occurs.There seems to be a profound fear of tooth loss which, in more primitive times, arose from the difficulty in masticating food without teeth. In modern times the fear is probably more a cosmetic one.

Curious beliefs have originated over the ages because of the terror of toothache and the difficulty of dealing with the problem before anaesthetics. Countless types of toothache remedies were proposed and if the status of the advisor was that of a respected member of the community, the remedy was accepted as absolutely reliable. Unfortunately some of these remedies coincided with a belief (still existing among some primitive peoples) in the curative properties of urine, a ‘universal panacea.’ In ancient times the first urine of the morning was advocated as a mouth rinse. Pliny (79-23BC) recommended the toothache sufferer to, ‘bite on a piece of wood struck by lightning’ or take’the juice of plants which are grown inside human skulls’. Ancient Chinese writings even alleged that tooth decay was advanced by excessive sexual indulgence.

The most common belief through the ages has been that dental decay was caused by worms boring into the teeth and eating away the inside. Dental decay, like gum disease, is caused by microscopic bacteria, and the breakdown of the hard tooth is started by acids formed by the bacteria from sugary food matter left around the teeth. Let us then list some current beliefs and deal with them as we go along.

1. ‘Every pregnancy means a tooth is lost.’

This is quite untrue and there is no reason for teeth to be lost if they are cared for.The belief could be based on the fact that a mother may care less for her mouth during pregnancy, and immediately after, because of other more immediate matters needing attention.

2. Whisky held in the mouth will hep to relieve toothache. ‘

Toothaches, which are generally an indication that the pulp of the tooth is inflamed, are sometimes eased by cold, sometimes made worse by it. If cold helps, whisky probably will too, by the cooling action of its alcohol. But it is probably better to swallow the whisky if you like whisky.

3. ‘Black people nearly all have marvellous teeth.’

Because of the contrast with the skin colour, the teeth of dark-skinned people seem to be much whiter than those of European race. In fact, the teeth of black people may be quite yellow but look g(xxl because they are often slightly more pronounced and somewhat larger. The teeth of black people living in a primitive tribal state are usually very healthy. However, black people in cities have worse teeth on average than their white counterparts.

4. ‘It doesn’t matter about saving the baby (first) teeth.

They are going to be lost anyway.’If the first teeth are not cared for, the following problems may occur:

i. Decay and toothache necessitating extractions. This is a poor introduction to the dentist and to dentistry.

ii. The first teeth help to maintain the place for the permanent teeth. If a baby tooth is lost early, the space may close up and lead to the permanent tooth being crowded out of position, making for a crooked row of teeth.

iii. If a first tooth becomes infected it might affect the growing tooth underneath and damage it.

iv. Taking a child to the dentist early, before there is any pain or discomfort (from two and a half to three years), will enable the child to have confidence in dentistry and make a friend of the dentist or hygienist. Prevention is much better than cure.

5. We all need glucose for energy and children therefore need sweets because they use up so much energy.’

Most sweets contain sugar in the form of sucrose. This is harmful to the teeth and is not a body requirement for nutrition, energy or anything else. All the glucose you need is made in the body system from the normal diet. Extra glucose will be turned into starch or fat.

6. You’ve got to have false teeth anyway. Why not get it over and done with while you’re young enough to get used to it?’

This is a difficult statement to refute. After all, young men who lose both legs can manage to play golf and tennis. If this happens at sixty or seventy perhaps it is a wheelchair for life. The fallacy? You don’t have to lose your legs or your teeth. If accidents happen you have to make the best of it.

7. You can have new teeth screwed into the gums. It isthe latest thing in America. Will you make me some?A friend of a friend had done it.’

Dentists have been asked this question for generations. They may reply: Bring in your friend of a friend and if what you say is true, I will do the same thing for nothing.’ So far the challenge has not been met. Usually there has been a misunderstanding and the true picture is that the friend had all her teeth removed and new teeth fitted on a removable dental plate, but with the tips of the teeth protruding into the gums. Although this may look like a good thing to do, in general and in the long run, the teeth which stick into the gum delay healing of the jaws. Another mistake is to confuse the idea with post crowns where there is a root already present and a crown is fitted to it.

There are of course such things as implants of metal into the jaws (or sometimes carbon implants). In the view of many dental experts these must, still be considered experimental.

New teeth cannot be screwed into the gums. The best things to be buried in the gums and jawbone are your own teeth Even a slightly loose tooth, if it is treated properly, is better than an implant.

8. All kinds of chronic illnesses like rheumatism can be caused by bad teeth—taking them all out will cure many vague diseases.’

The theory of ‘focal infection’ where it was thought that an infected tooth could be the basis for much generalized ill health was responsible in the ‘bad old days’ for wholesale mass extraction and the fitting of millions of dentures. Unfortunately there are still a number of doctors who, if they are not sure what is causing their patient’s illness, plump for ‘bad teeth’. Apart from some rare exceptions this theory has been exploded. The cause is unlikely to be ‘bad teeth’. Taking out teeth to cure illness usually results in the patient with no teeth and the same illness.

9. ‘Scaling damages the teeth because it takes the enamel off:

Scaling removes the tartar deposits on the teeth. Tartar may look like enamel but it is really hardened bacteria and ‘dirt’. The main cause of tooth loss in adults is that these harmful deposits are not removed often enough, because some patients do not attend regularly, and thoroughly enough, because it may require specialist attention. Enamel is one of the hardest substances known to man. It is very difficult to remove: if the dentist needs to remove it to make a crown, he usually has to grind it off with diamond drills!

10. ‘Fluorides are poision.’

So are most necessary minerals and vitamins, if taken in excess.

11. ‘Fluorides are miracle medicines.

No. They are just basic requirements like vitamins.

12. ‘Clasps (wires to hold partial dentures in place) will rot your teeth.

A badly designed chair might give you backache. A well designed clasp cannot in itself cause dental decay or gum disease. However, it can offer a place where bacterial plaque can collect if the clasps are not cleaned regularly and thoroughly. Thus, clean clasps like clean teeth are usually safe.

13. ‘Blackcurrant drinks are good for your children’s teeth.’

Many blackcurrant drinks like many other soft drinks are loaded with sugar. They are therefore potentially harmful if the liquid is left around the teeth. The reason for recommending blackcurrant drinks is for the Vitamin C content. There may be better ways of getting vitamin C in fruit and vegetables. But a good rinsing with plain water after a blackcurrant drink is a great help. Never, never put these sugary liquids into baby bottle feeders or comforters’.

14. You are born to have good teeth or bad teeth and there is nothing you can do about it’

A few people do have a congenital or hereditary disposition to poor dental conditions. But these are rare and, on the whole, the future of one’s teeth is first of all in the hands of one’s parents, then one’s dentist, if attended regularly, and most important onself. ‘Caring means keeping.’

15. I know sweets and chocolates and sugars cause decay so 1 never have them. I give my children lots of honey and natural sugars.’

I have seen just as many teeth destroyed by natural sugars’, e.g. honey, being left in baby’s feeding bottle for overnight feeds as anything else. Most commercial honey contains sucrose which is implicated in all dental decay studies. Substitution of one sweet thing for another, even if it turns out to be less harmful, is not good policy.

What is frustrating about all the above explanations is that in spite of them, many people will still go on believing the myths. I remember one young mother coming to see me at the hospital with a tiny baby whose mouth was in a dreadful state. I asked how she cleaned the feeding bottles and she said, “I rinse them in used tea leaves.’ I asked, ‘You go to the child welfare clinic, dont’t you? Did they advise you to use old tea leaves?’ ‘Oh no. They told me to use sterilizing solution, but my friend said old tea leaves were better.’

The Secrets of 32 Teeth

How can you have sound teeth or give a sparkling smile without taking proper care of teeth. Personal appearance greatly influences one’s life and the condition of the teeth greatly influences personal appearance. Recent new techniques in dentistry are allowing more people than ever before to keep their teeth almost for a lifetime. We must bless ourselves that we live in such advanced times. Your teeth are as vulnerable to diseases as any other part of our body. It is also necessary to know your present condition of teeth & gums.

May be you don’t believe but nine out of ten Indians suffer from either tooth decay or gum disease. It is surprising but true that more teeth are lost through gum diseases than through tooth decay. This suggests that you will have to avail the best treatment and latest information for your teeth without wasting time, effort and money. Sir william Osier recognized and stressed the significance of the oral cavity as a “Mirror” of the rest of the body.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *