It's good to brush teeth after meals, and other oral care myths

SINGAPORE - If you believe that brushing right after a meal or using toothpicks to pick out dirt are good practices for healthy teeth and gums, then congratulations.

You are one of the nearly half or a fifth respectively of Singaporeans who believe in a myth.

Dentist warn that brushing too soon after an acidic meal or drinking acidic juices can corrode the teeth. It is recommended that you wait at least half an hour, or at best an hour, before you clean your pearly whites.

This is as foods, and especially drinks like soda, with a very high level of acidity can soften the enamel, and if you brush your teeth straight away, you risk damaging this layer.

"With brushing, you could actually push the acid deeper into the enamel and the dentin," said Dr Howard R. Gamble, president of the Academy of General Dentistry.

However, an alarming number of Singaporeans believe otherwise, as revealed in an oral health survey conducted by Oral-B, conducted as part of its “Brush More, Smile More Singapore" movement.

While 46 per cent of Singaporeans believe erroneously that it's ok to brush teeth right after consuming soft drinks, 30 per cent said they will brush their teeth right after eating hawker food.

Neither is it a good idea to drink soda right after brushing your teeth. 

According to Dr Elvin Leong, a Dental Specialist in Prosthodontics with Specialist Dental Group, the idea of brushing is to remove plaque and debris, and combined with the use of fluoride toothpaste, also help remineralise the enamel.

Thus, it is not advisable to expose your teeth to sugar and acid during this process.

The toothpick myth

It is typical for Singaporeans to reach for a toothpick right after a meal. More than 20 per cent believe the toothpick is good for the gums and overall dental hygiene.

However, the truth is, toothpicks can potentially splinter and stab the gum, opening the way for bacteria to be introduced into the gum and causing an infection.

Other myths include believing that chewing gum can replace brushing, and that firmer bristles are more effective for removing plaque and stains from teeth.

How firm should your bristles be

Firmer bristles can damage teeth

Tooth truth: Choosing the right toothbrush is important. You need toothbrush bristles that are designed to meet your different needs, depending on the unique needs of each user.

For most people, dentists would recommend soft or medium-bristled toothbrushes.

Some people prefer firmer bristles because they believe them to be more effective for removing plaque and stains from the teeth, though that is not the case.

While firmer bristles do clean better, at the same time they cause more abrasion to the teeth and gums.

Other than the firmness of bristles, it is also good to look out for toothbrushes with smaller heads. This is as a smaller head can reach into tight corners of your mouth, such as the back teeth, which are blocked by muscles.

People with crooked teeth might also want to look out for angled brushes, as the bristles can be in a better position to reach those teeth.

You can overbrush your teeth

And yes, it is possible to over brush your teeth.

According to Dr Leong, there is a prevalent misconception that the more times and the harder one brushes his/her teeth, one's teeth and gums will be cleaner.

Signs of over brushing include receding gums at an accelerated rate and non-decay cavities arising from tooth brush abrasion, he said.

In addition, don't be too over-zealous when cleaning your teeth. While oral disinfectants are great in situations of acute oral infections and post-surgery situations, Dr Leong does not recommend it for long-term or permanent usage.

For people without special conditions, and who engage in the usual toothbrushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist, oral disinfectants do not offer a drastic advantage, he said.

In addition, certain oral disinfectants have the potential to cause external teeth staining and may alter taste sensations, he warned.

Whitening toothpastes are also best to be avoided, as they may be more abrasive than usual toothpastes.

Why do Singaporeans not smile more?

The wide selection of oral healthcare is confusing me. Help me!

These days, it seems every toothbrush and toothpaste is boasting of additional benefits or another - from being equipped with additional rubber bits or with added ingredients.

There are some studies that have shown these added features provide some benefit.

However, if all the lingo confuses you, just follow these three steps:

  • Brush at least two times daily;
  • Brush at least two minutes each time;
  • Visit the dentist at least two times a year

As for toothpastes, as long as the toothpaste contains fluoride (which aids in hardening of tooth enamel), the type of toothpaste does not matter, Dr Leong advised.

Healthier teeth, confident smiles

Most Singaporeans feel that their fellow countrymen should smile more, the survey revealed.

One of the key reasons to the dour faces may be that because many of us fear that we have ugly teeth.

A majority of 67 per cent of respondents agreed that they would smile more if they had healthy teeth. However, only 21 per cent of Singaporeans have very positive ratings of their teeth's health.

Plaque and tartar (64 per cent), tooth decay (64 per cent) and bad breath (59 per cent) are of the top reasons that would stop Singaporeans from smiling.

More than one in three Singaporeans said that they smile more after a visit to the dentist; but many still avoid the dentist clinic for various reasons.

A few of the common myths that prevent them from seeking oral care is that many believe tooth loss is a normal consequence of ageing and that healthy teeth are hereditary.

A third of Singaporeans felt that all dental procedures are painful and 26 per cent said there was nothing that they can do to decrease their anxiety about visiting the dentist.

With the advancements in dentistry, many dental procedures these days are almost pain-free.

An alarming one in two Singaporeans say they don't visit the dentist because they think it is expensive.

However, take caution: People should not delay dental care due to financial concerns because if you wait too long, oral problems could worsen and this could mean more costly treatments in the long run.