Head of the Ontario Dental Association shares the most common oral health mistakes

Dr. Charles Frank says we should pay more attention to our teeth, floss, and do a better job of brushing.

Maja Begovic 5 minute read April 14, 2022
Watercolor hand drawing jaw with teeth collection set

Dental care is a key part of maintaining overall health and well-being. GETTY

Since the start of the pandemic, dentists across the country have maintained strict disease prevention and control protocols that help protect the health of their patients. Whether for an emergency procedure or routine treatment, Canadians have been able to access safe dental care in times of the biggest public health crisis in recent history. Since that first lockdown in March 2020, no known cases of COVID-19 infections have been linked to a dental practice in Ontario and a recent study conducted across Canada reported similar findings.

Dr. Charles Frank, president of the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) spoke with Healthing during Oral Health Month about the importance of oral health, including some of the most common mistakes patients make, why slouching throughout the day can lead to teeth grinding at night, and the odd connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and cracked or broken teeth.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are the top concerns that dentists see in patients?

There are several things. Dental decay, dental trauma due to accidents or abuse, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain or dysfunction and cracked teeth due to stress, oral cancer, and dental infections that can become life-threatening if neglected.

Are tooth fractures on the rise since the start of the pandemic?

One of the reactions to stress is the clenching and grinding of the teeth. This pandemic has been a very stressful time for all of us. As a result, we are seeing more cracked and broken teeth.

What are the most common oral health mistakes?

Two things come to mind. First is neglecting your teeth. Avoiding regular checkups isn’t a good idea because if there is a small cavity that develops, letting it go unnoticed and untreated means it could get bigger to the point that a more extensive filling is needed, or it becomes infected. Second, is inadequate or improper brushing and flossing. Not taking the time to brush each tooth properly with the right technique can result in leaving plaque on the teeth which contributes to excessive wear along the gum line. Flossing is also important to do every day to help disrupt bacteria growth between the teeth.

What do dentists wish their patients would do?

We would like to see more preventive activity, such as proper brushing three times a day, daily flossing, regular checkups for maintenance, more healthy snacks, and less sugar and junk food. Quitting smoking is also so important — this habit not only promotes gum disease, but oral cancer, as well.

Can a dentist tell if you regularly brush and floss?

In a heartbeat. First, there is halitosis or bad breath. Then looking inside the mouth, we see red, purplish inflamed gums that bleed easily. There is the obvious white fuzzy stuff that sticks to the teeth that we refer to as plaque. Even if you give your teeth a quick brush and floss before coming in to see the dentist, there is still the telltale signs of puffy, inflamed gums.

I read somewhere that poor posture in the day can lead to teeth clenching and grinding at night. Is this true? 

Growing up, there was a song I remember that went something like, “the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone …” Everything is connected. You can compare the head sitting on top of the neck like a ball on top of a stick. It is balanced by the muscles and ligaments holding it there. Any imbalance in one of the muscles needs to be countered by the other muscles. Some of these muscles also work the jaws, and when overworked, they can continue this activity into the night.

What are clues that you grind your teeth at night, and how can you prevent it?

The best way to find out whether your grind your teeth while you sleep is to have someone watch you while you sleep — they will be able to see or hear the grinding. Other clues include waking up in the middle of the night with your teeth clenched tight together, or, in the morning, feeling as if your jaw ran a marathon with sore, or just tired, muscles. Sometimes you may wake with a headache, or notice your teeth are worn or have flat spots on the biting surfaces.

Often, grinding at night is stress-related, so if you can address what is bothering you and reduce your stress, that may solve the problem. Another treatment is to wear a night guard or nocturnal bruxism splint.

Should we worry about a jaw that makes a clicking or a popping sound?

Joint noises are fairly common and may clear up over time. Sometimes they don’t, but we are not overly concerned if there is no pain or discomfort.

Why do we need so many X-rays of our teeth?

Dental X-rays are a very useful diagnostic tool. They help us see cavities when they are very small and in between the teeth. It is far better to fill a small cavity before it becomes bigger. Sometimes, X-rays will show a weakness in the enamel or the early stage of a cavity before it forms a hole. When we catch it at that stage, we can advise our patient to spend a little extra time flossing and brushing in that area to prevent it from getting worse and needing to get filled. X-rays also help us see inside the bone where there may be an abnormality or to see how wisdom teeth are growing in to determine if they need to be removed.

Now that we are in the sixth wave of the pandemic, is it safe to go back to the dentist?

Absolutely. Since the pandemic began, dentists have been working hard in the face of COVID-19 to keep patients, staff and themselves protected with enhanced infection prevention protocols. It is far riskier to avoid dental checkups because dental care is a key part of maintaining overall health and well-being. You can find out how dentists are keeping you safe at oda.ca.

Maja Begovic is a Toronto-based writer.