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What causes bad breath? Is it normal for gums to bleed? Should pregnant women avoid the dentist?

“There are still many myths about oral health that people truly believe,” said Dr. Kenneth Bueltmann, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. “If we can dispel these myths and educate children and adults about the real facts of proper oral hygiene, we might be able to help save teeth and produce a lifetime of smiles.”

The AAP says more than 75 percent of adults over age 35 have a form of periodontal disease, which is characterized by bacterial gum infections that destroy the attachment fibers and supporting bone holding the teeth in the mouth.

“Dental cavities and periodontal disease are the No. 1 reason for tooth loss,” said Dr. Bueltmann. “Knowing how to identify potential problems and incorporating a daily hygiene regimen of brushing and flossing could prevent your chances of tooth decay, tooth loss and other illnesses that may be linked to infections of the mouth.”

According to the AAP, some of the most common misconceptions about oral health are:

  • The primary reason for toothbrushing is to remove food debris.
    FACT: Daily brushing and flossing will also keep the formation of plaque to a minimum. If not removed every 26 hours, plaque will irritate gums, which can lead to periodontal disease.
  • Bleeding gums are normal.
    FACT: Bleeding gums are one of the eight signs of gum disease. Think of gum tissue as the skin on your hand. If your hands bled every time you washed them, you would know something is wrong.
  • Oral health doesn’t affect overall health.
    FACT: When the gums are infected, periodontal bacterial byproducts can enter the blood stream and travel to major organs and set off other problems. Research suggests this may contribute to the development of heart disease, the nation’s leading cause of death; increase the risk of stroke; increase a woman’s risk of having a pre-term, low birthweight baby; and pose a serious threat to people whose health is compromised by diabetes, respiratory diseases or osteoporosis.
  • Bad breath is caused by a lack of oral hygiene.
    FACT: Excellent oral hygiene doesn’t necessarily relieve bad breath. There are certain kinds of bacteria in the mouth that produce volatile sulfur compounds. If these sulfur compounds build up enough, the result can be clinical bad breath. In addition to brushing and flossing, brushing the tongue (where the sulfur resides) can help eliminate bad breath.
  • Cavities are the number one cause of tooth loss.
    FACT: Together, periodontal disease and cavities are the primary cause of tooth loss.
  • Pregnant women should skip professional dental checkups.
    FACT: Periodontal health can affect unborn babies’ health. Studies have shown an infection during pregnancy, including periodontal disease, is cause for concern and may increase the risk of delivering a premature, low birthweight baby.
  • Stress does not cause problems in the mouth.
    FACT: High levels of financial stress and poor coping abilities increase the likelihood of developing periodontal disease. Researchers found people who dealt with financial strain in an active and practical way (problem-focused) rather than with avoidance techniques (emotion-focused) had no more risk of severe periodontal disease than those without money problems.