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Dental “Vampire” Myth

Dental “Vampire” Myth

Some myths just won’t die even with a stake of science and research right through the heart. Perhaps the myths started with actual observations, but the explanation myth far outlives the truth. Personal worsts:

“Bad teeth just run in our family.”  Actually, nearly everyone’s tooth structure is quite similar, with a few rare genetic exceptions. So why do we see that high rates of decay do “run” in families? This is the result of a combination of two factors.  First, a child is infected with Mutans Strep, the primary bacteria that cause cavities, from a loving caregiver (often the mother) early in life, which looks like heredity. Then poor dietary choices for the child (a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates) complete the bacteria’s requirements to cause cavities. So while cavities tend to be prevalent in certain families, it’s not genetic. 

“You lose a tooth with each child since the baby needs the calcium.” This myth’s origin is a little murky. Health professionals know that the body is unable to pull calcium out of tooth structure (as it can from bone), much less pick just one tooth! However, the hormone changes in pregnancy often cause an inappropriately exuberant reaction to bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar), which causes a nasty-looking gum overgrowth in one area. If untreated, it could cause loss of the tooth, but it is easily treatable by a dentist; let any patient with this belief know that their child will do fine if they save their tooth!

“Old people just lose their teeth.”  This one is extremely distressing to me as a dental professional. After all, if you believe you’re going to lose your teeth anyway, why bother? But the research shows that health outcomes are better for seniors with their own teeth (healthy teeth, of course!) probably because they can eat better foods like vegetables. Why the myth? Periodontal disease is a slow, painless disease that dissolves the bone around the roots of teeth over years, so it looks like aging. Prevention works! By brushing and flossing at least once a day, this simple and effective removal of bacteria prevents this disease.

All of these myths can have significant long-term health implications. Nurses as trusted health care provider can make a difference in long-term quality of life with a little timely education. IPE works!