Dental MythBuster #8 – Having an Eye Tooth Pulled Will Cause Blindness

I have only come across this dental myth a couple of times in my career. But this fable is out there and some people actually believe it! In this Dental MythBuster, we bust the following crazy myth:

Having an eye tooth (canine) pulled will lead to blindness

Let’s explore how this dental myth originated and then we will thoroughly debunk it.

Why a Canine tooth is called a Canine

Lower canine teeth on a dog

Long lower canines on a dog. Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

Before we explore this myth, we need to understand why a canine is often called an eye tooth. But even before that, why is a canine tooth called a canine? A canine, also called a cuspid, earned its name because of the resemblance to the long, sharp canine tooth of a dog.

Now unless your last name is Dracula, your canines do not look like the dog on the right. If you look at your own teeth in the mirror, you should see slightly sharpened tips on both your upper and lower canines. And they are also in the same approximate position as the canines in a dog. So for all these reasons, those teeth are called canines.

Why Canines are Called Eye Teeth

Canine is called an eye tooth on this photo because you draw a line from the canine to the eye

Upper canine with a line drawn towards her left eye.

When you smile, your upper canine is oriented in such a way that a line drawn along the long axis intersects with your eye on the same side. This is true for most people. If you can see a prominent tip on your own canines you should try to visualize this on yourself.

The photograph to the left demonstrates this nicely with a red line going from the canine towards the mid point of the left eye. We could do the same on her right side too.

It is because of this anatomical orientation and relationship that a canine is called an eye tooth.

Removal of a Canine and Blindness?

So how did this myth originate? I have three theories:

Photo of a canine or eye tooth for the dental mythbuster on how losing an eye tooth causes blindness

Loss of this tooth leading to blindness? I don’t think so!

  • Since a canine is called an eye tooth, you could incorrectly assume that removal would lead to loss of sight in that eye.
  • The nerves and blood vessels supplying the eye tooth are similar in location and origin to those supplying the eye. You could incorrectly conclude that if you remove the tooth, the nerves and blood vessels going to the eye would be removed too.

These two theories don’t make a lot of sense. But, I suppose some people could have believed them at one point. My final theory is based on a fact:

  • In the era before antibiotics and modern medicine, upper tooth infections often did spread to the eye as well as the brain, leading to blindness and death in some cases.

This fact could also lead people to incorrectly believe that loss of the canine could make you go blind.

Dental Myth Busted!

The three theories posted above show why people may have incorrectly believed in this myth. But you can’t hide from the truth, which is:

There is no physiological relationship between an upper canine and the eye that would cause blindness upon removal of that tooth.

There are consequences to tooth loss but none of them involve your eyesight. In my practice in Orange, CT, I always recommend a dental implant when a patient is going to lose a tooth. But my treatment recommendation is based on facts and not on hearsay, and certainly not on a dental myth like this!

I hope you enjoyed this latest Dental MythBuster.

Dental MythBuster #7 – Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Visit the Dentist

Photo showing no pregnant women allowed at the dentist

Pregnant women should go to the dentist. Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

This dental myth originates from the numerous calls we get to our office where an expecting patient states “I’m pregnant and I heard I shouldn’t go to the dentist.”

This also happens to be the second dental myth that involves either pregnant or post-partum women. In Dental Mythbuster #6, I dispelled the notion that an in-utero or nursing baby “sucked” the calcium out of the mother’s teeth leading to cavities.  In this post, I bust the myth that pregnant women either don’t need or should not receive dental care.

Pregnancy and Gums

During pregnancy, there are numerous hormonal changes that affect a woman, including changes to the gum tissue (called gingiva). Specifically, a woman’s hormones make her gum tissue extra sensitive to plaque and calculus around the teeth. As a result, inflammation around the gums develop. This inflammation is called gingivitis.

Photo or Picture of pregnancy gingivitis inflamed gums due to hormones while pregnant

Inflamed Gums showing Pregnancy Gingivitis. A regular dental cleaning without numbing during the pregnancy will address the gingivitis.

Pregnancy gingivitis affects between 50% to 75% of expecting mothers in the United States. Gingivitis left untreated during pregnancy can lead to gum and teeth problems after the pregnancy. There is also research to suggest that untreated gum problems can lead to preterm birth.

Most importantly, a regular dental cleaning without local anesthesia during pregnancy is totally safe. In my dental office in Orange, CT, I speak to the treating obstetrician if there is a concern. But after treating thousands of moms-to-be over the past several years, pregnant women can and should receive regular cleanings throughout the pregnancy. In fact, many dental insurance companies will pay for extra cleanings during pregnancy!

Pregnancy and Teeth

Cavity on tooth dental decay on pregnant mother on mom that is expecting

Cavity on one of my patients who delivered 11 months earlier.

It is well established that expecting and post-partum mothers are at higher risk for cavities (dental decay). I outlined this in a previous Dental MythBuster.  Untreated dental decay can lead to more serious problems including infections, dental abscesses, and significant pain – all conditions that can place both the mother and the unborn child at significant risk.

Just like with a cleaning, I always check with the patient’s obstetrician. Cosmetic or elective dental treatment is always postponed until after the pregnancy.  But procedures that address serious teeth problems – certain fillings, treatment of abscesses, root canals – can and should be done. On many occasions  I have had to treat a pregnant patient in severe pain or with a serious dental abscess – now that is a problem that can impact the pregnancy!

What to expect at the Dentist when you’re expecting

In this Dental MythBuster, I’ve shown that pregnant women should see the dentist. When I see a pregnant patient at her first cleaning since learning she is expecting, my hygienists and I always review what to expect with her teeth and gum tissue over the course of the pregnancy.  If any treatment is needed, we frequently consult with her obstetrician.

So, be sure to continue your regular dental checkups when you’re expecting. Your gums and teeth will thank you for it!

Dental MythBuster #6 – My baby stole the calcium from my teeth!

As a general dentist practicing in Orange, CT, I have the privilege of treating patients of all ages, including both expecting and postpartum mothers.  The number one dental myth I hear from these patients is the following:

Drawing of baby who stole the calcium from his mother's teeth leading to dental cavities

“I didn’t have any cavities until I became pregnant. Then my baby sucked the calcium out of my teeth which is why I have all these new cavities now!”

This is always a difficult dental myth to “bust.” First, the concept of losing calcium from bones is well established and patients frequently assume bones and teeth are similar.   Secondly, this dental myth is so widely circulated among pregnant and new mothers that many don’t want to believe me when I try to “bust” it!

About Calcium, Teeth, and Bone

Teeth, like bone, are comprised of hard minerals, with calcium being one of the key components. Tooth enamel is harder than bone and is actually the hardest substance in the body!  Adult teeth begin to develop at a very young age and continue to mature until approximately age 16 (except for wisdom teeth).  By age 16, your teeth are no longer developing and the strong enamel layer no longer requires nutrients from your bloodstream.   So at this point a deficiency of calcium in your diet will not affect your teeth, because your teeth are no longer forming.

Picture of Bone in Thigh. Unlike teeth, bones are constantly being broken down for calicum.

Bone is used as a source of calcium.

This is in direct contrast to bone which is constantly being reformed in response to dietary, hormonal, and other factors. Every single day, small parts of your bones are naturally dissolved and then re-formed.  Calcium is needed for this process and a deficiency of calcium can lead to weaker bones.  This is one of the main reasons why older patients frequently take Vitamin D and Calcium – it is to enhance the strength of their bones.

So, many patients assume that because bones constantly require a source of calcium, then teeth must as well. And with a growing baby in utero and/or nursing baby taking nutrients from the mother, people assume their teeth are having nutrients taken away. Not true!

New Mothers and Tooth Cavities

So this brings up the question: do new mothers have greater amounts of tooth decay? And if so, why?  Well, the answer to the first question is Yes! New mothers do have higher rates of dental decay.

Tooth with a cavity or decay in a new mother, not because the baby stole her calcium

Photo of a tooth from one of my patients with an 8 month-old little one. The cavity is NOT because the baby “stole” calcium from her teeth!

There are several reasons for why new mothers have more cavities. I have observed all 4 of these personally in my private practice.

  1. Morning Sickness: not all pregnant patients experience this. However, even occasional vomiting in the morning brings up very acidic stomach contents which can quickly erode your teeth, leading to decay.
  2. Acid Reflux: pregnant women are more likely to experience acid reflux due to the pressure on their stomach from the growing baby. This can also lead to stomach acid entering the mouth to erode the teeth.
  3. Changes in Oral Hygiene: let’s face it, being a Mom is hard work! Many new mothers spend so much time focusing on their new child that they neglect to brush and floss consistently. This can easily lead to new cavities.
  4. Changes in Diet: with pregnancy and nursing, some women will start eating sugary foods they did not typically consume before.  Increased sugar intake can lead to increased decay.

In addition to dental decay, pregnant and nursing mothers are also at risk for Pregnancy Gingivitis which will be covered in a future post.

Dental MythBuster #5 – Placing aspirin on a tooth cures a toothache.

Unlike many other myths in the Dental MythBuster series, this is one I do not see too often.  But I see this myth enough in practice to recognize it and it always follows a predictable pattern:

A patient comes in as an emergency appointment to my office in Orange, CT with distress and anxiety. He/she typically did not sleep well the night before due to the pain and looks disheveled. He or she will say something to the effect of: “Dr. Calcaterra, this tooth has been killing me and keeping me awake at night. I placed aspirin next to the tooth and it didn’t do a darn thing!  Can you help me?”

I perform my usual exam and x-ray and go ahead and diagnose the offending tooth. But I also notice the following:

Photo of when patient placed aspirin on tooth and burned his gums and cheek

White burn on the gums and cheek due to a patient placing aspirin next to the tooth in an attempt to relieve a toothache.

I see the characteristic white, chemical burn from the aspirin on the cheek and gums adjacent to the tooth. Now instead of just having a toothache, the patient is going to have a painful burn on their soft tissue for the next several days!

About Aspirin

Bayer Aspirin - not to be used for toothaches

The full name of aspirin is Acetylsalicylic Acid.  The first part of the name – acetylsalicylic – is not important. The second part of the name – Acid – is important!  I won’t go into the details on what makes a substance an acid, but an acid will burn tissue, especially the moist tissues of the mouth.

Many of us have experienced heartburn (technically called GERD or gastro-esophageal reflex disease) at some point in our lives.  In GERD, stomach acids go up the esophagus and can enter the mouth, leading to a burning pain.  The acid quite literally blisters the soft tissues of the esophagus and the mouth. So if you place aspirin on the gums right next to the tooth, you are putting an acidic substance that is almost as powerful as stomach acid in direct contact with the gum tissue. It is like heartburn of the gums!

In addition, the placement of the aspirin right next to the tooth will do nothing for the tooth pain!

How Aspirin can help with teeth pain

Aspirin works by blocking the production of certain pain chemicals in your blood.  When you swallow an aspirin tab, it is broken down and absorbed by the intestines and then enters the bloodstream.  The acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) then circulates around and interferes with pain chemicals at various parts of your body.  So if you have a headache, the aspirin travels by the bloodstream to the headache area, blocks the pain chemicals present, and you experience pain relief.

Photo of Aspirin on Forehead. This does not help with a headache

Aspirin on your forehead will not cure a headache!

But aspirin (and other pain pills such as Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve, etc.) can only work when they enter the bloodstream. Aspirin placed directly next to your tooth will ultimately enter your bloodstream (the rate at which it enters is dependent on a number of factors – all beyond the scope of this post). Without aspirin in your blood, it will not work. Would you place an aspirin pill on your forehead for a headache? Of course not!

I swallowed the aspirin and my tooth still hurts!

Pain relievers such as aspirin can reduce the feeling of pain, but they do not fix what is causing the pain. If you break your arm, a pain reliever may reduce some of the pain, but you still need to see an orthopedist!  The same goes for a toothache. Often times there is decay into the nerve of a tooth or a dental infection is present.  The aspirin may help, but the only way to get true pain relief is to get definitive treatment from your dentist. That treatment may ultimately end up being either a root canal or an extraction.

So, when you have dental pain, don’t place the aspirin next to your tooth. Call your dentist for an appointment and ask him/her what you should take for pain in the interim.  Until the next Dental MythBuster…

Still convinced that an aspirin next to your tooth helps more than swallowing it? See Part II of this post.