Dental MythBuster #11 – You can get Gum Disease from Kissing Someone

Photo of people kissing and getting gum disease

Is he about to give her gum disease?

This dental myth is not as common as some of the other ones I have seen, such as the novocaine myth, the epinephrine allergy tale, and many others. However, it is still something that I encounter on a fairly regular basis.

This myth is the belief that gum disease can somehow be caught by kissing someone who already has the disease.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, more formally known as periodontal disease, are a series of conditions that affect the gum and bone tissue holding in the teeth. While there are some uncommon variations, the most common types are gingivitis and periodontitis.

Without proper treatment, over time, the disease can destroy the tissue holding in the teeth. And as a result, the teeth can ultimately loosen up and/or become infected, resulting in the loss of those teeth. Note that this is a completely different disease than cavities (also known as dental decay or caries).

Causes of Gum Disease

A photo is worth a thousand words, so let’s take a look:

Photo of lower teeth with significant calculus (tartar) and gum disease

Lower front teeth being viewed from the tongue side. Calculus, aka tartar, has built up between the teeth leading to gum disease.

The above photo shows the #1 cause of gum disease: poor oral hygiene leading to a buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth above and below the gums.

This patient is one I saw in my office in Orange, CT. His gums tissue was red and inflamed and would bleed whenever they were touched.

Besides oral hygiene, there are other factors that can contribute to gum disease:

  • Smoking
  • Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV, leukemia, and many others
  • Some medications that cause dry mouth
  • Certain genetic traits
  • And many other factors

What’s Love Got to do with it?

Inflamed gums leading to periodontal disease seen in Orange, CT

This did NOT come from kissing someone!

Nothing! Gum disease is not caused by kissing someone. While it is true that kissing can spread oral bacteria from one person to another, this act does not cause a person to develop gum disease.

Did the plaque at the gum line on the photo to the left come from the person this patient just kissed? No!

While it may be tempting to blame your ex for the conditions of your gums, this is one thing you can’t pin on him/her!

Until the next Dental MythBuster…


A Divorce over Bad Breath?

Picture of person with bad breath aka halitosis

Halitosis or Brad Breath. Image courtesy Flickr Commons.

Bad Breath, more formally known as halitosis, is a condition that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. It is defined as a persistent malodor coming from the mouth. Bad breath is primarily caused by conditions affecting the teeth or gums but other anatomical areas such as the nose, throat, and GI system can also be causes.

The annoyance of bad breath has been noticed for centuries – it is not just a recent development. But did you know that in some cultures, you could divorce your partner over it?

Bad Breath in the Talmud

The Talmud is an important text in Judaism and dates back to more than two thousand years. This text serves as the basis for Jewish law and customs.  Surprisingly, halitosis is discussed in great detail in more than one part of the Talmud.

In this great summary by Shira Goldstein, she outlines the details of halitosis and how it was addressed in the Talmud:

  • According to the Talmud, halitosis is considered a “serious disability.”
  • In Jewish marriage, the ketuba is the marriage contract between the husband and wife. If a husband discovers his wife has bad breath, he has the ability to cancel the ketuba over it.
  • Women were able to divorce their husbands over halitosis too. The smell from bad breath was even comparable to the smell from collecting dog dung!
  • There was significant discussion in the Talmud over whether nasal odor and oral odor were equivalent. They were later deemed to be comparable.

So this means that over 2000 years ago, people were gravely concerned about bad breath!

Bad Breath and the Dentist

Photo of teeth with gum disease showing halitosis or bad breath

Would you divorce your spouse if his/her teeth looked like this and the odor was comparable to dog dung?

As a dentist in Orange, CT, patients typically look to me to help them with their real or perceived halitosis. Many people actually suffer from a perception and/or fear that they have bad breath. This is referred to as halitophobia.

But most cases of perceived halitosis are legitimate. Research shows that 85 to 90% of cases of bad breath are oral in origin with the remaining 10 to 15% originating elsewhere. So that means I can help the vast majority of patients with real (or perceived) cases of halitosis. The techniques for treating bad breath are beyond the scope of this post but in general we focus on improving oral hygiene. For the other 10 to 15%, I typically refer to the correct physician specialist for evaluation and diagnosis.

What NOT to do if you have halitosis

I’ve had a great number of patients come to me for assistance and advice on many dental and non-dental issues. These have ranged from whether the Tooth Fairy should come for Wisdom Teeth (no!) to whether used dental floss can be flushed down the toilet (no!) to how do I tell my significant other they should see the dentist (firmly but delicately).

I have yet to field a question regarding bad breath and the status of a patient’s marriage. But I can confidently say:

Do not divorce you partner if he/she has bad breath!

Your dentist and hygienist can help. Just call them.

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!

Tooth Tattoo

Small Sensor May Help Dentists Assess Dental and Overall Health.

As a dentist in Orange, Connecticut, one of the things I enjoy most is watching and following all the exciting research developments in the dental field. It is amazing the creativity and ingenuity that goes in to developing these innovations.  The research spans all areas, from better local anesthetic delivery systems, stronger crowns, new surgical techniques, more esthetic restorative materials, etc.  Some products are still many years away from market release.  Other dental innovations are “cool” but will never be feasible as commercial products.  Some products are ready to be released and placed into the hands of dentists today!

To stay abreast of these dental developments, I subscribe to different email lists and participate in various online forums about dentistry.  I do this so that I can incorporate newer technologies into my daily practice.  I came across the following article just a couple of days ago. The article describes a device that can attach to a tooth and provide information about the types of bacteria present in the mouth.

Tooth Tatoo Diagram

Tooth Tatoo – The Sensor (A) attached to the tooth (B) binds with bacteria (D) and sends radio signals (C). Image courtesy of Manu Manoor/Nature Communications.

Researchers at Tufts University have developed this technology.  In the prototype, there is a sensor with a width less than a piece of paper that attaches to a tooth.  Outside the mouth there is a receiver that continuously “pings” the sensor providing it with power as well as allowing the sensor to send data back to the receiver.  The sensor will send back different types of data based upon the presence or lack of bacteria as well as the types of bacteria that are adhering to the sensor.

Strep Mutuans, the cocci bacteria found on teeth that cause cavities or dental decay

Strep Mutans – the bacteria responsible for cavities

Dental caries (also known as dental decay or dental cavities) are caused by specific bacteria, aided or hindered by certain dietary habits.  Periodontal disease (which includes periodontitis and gingivitis) is caused by specific bacteria as well and is affected by numerous other factors (smoking, certain systemic diseases, etc).  The presence/absence as well as the amount of these different types of bacteria are directly linked to the current disease process as well as the future possibility of disease.  So a device such as this would be beneficial in diagnosing both current and future cases of cavities and periodontal disease.

Dr. Gerard Kugel from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine mentions in the article examples of how this technology could be used in an everyday dental practice.  If a patient is experiencing a spike in bacterial loads associated with dental caries, the patient could be given a prescription for high strength fluoride and be instructed to chew xylitol gum multiple times throughout the day.  Or if the sensor is detecting a surge in one of the 3 main bacterial species associated with periodontitis, the patient could be notified and be recommended to have a cleaning soon or to start on a mouth rinse containing chlorhexidine.

Beyond assessing a patient for dental caries or periodontal disease, I see many other applications of this future tool.  There are many biological markers in saliva that could be monitored and tracked. For example, proteins from the HIV virus can be found in saliva.  In addition, biological markers associated with Type II Diabetes, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and many other diseases can be found in saliva.  A great summary of the different markers can be found here.

This development is still many years away from being commercially available and viable. However, there are many possibilities beyond what has been described in this blog post.  But perhaps the greatest finding with this research is the further solidification that the mouth is a gateway to the body and that dentists and physicians should work together closely to manage their patients’ health.

Disclosure: I completed my undergraduate studies at Tufts University and I routinely take continuing education classes at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. But I have no connection with this product or the research in practice in Orange, CT.