Secrets From Your Dentist

Dentists from across the country tell us what they're really thinking as they peer at our teeth.

By Chris Woolston from Reader's Digest | July 2009

Do you floss about as often as you flip your mattress? Do you spend more time putting toothpaste on your brush than actually cleaning your teeth? Dentists notice these things. And that’s not all. They also know when you’re asking for a procedure that’s going to disappoint you and when insurance companies are stinting on the care your smile needs. We asked 22 dentists from across the country to tell us what they’re really thinking as they peer at our teeth. What came out of their mouths will change the way you treat yours.

Dentist PictureThinkstock Images / JupiterimagesBad breath? Bleeding gums? The things your dentist isn't saying will change how you think about dental hygiene.

You Don’t Get It Some truly educated people think that if nothing in their mouth hurts, they’re fine. High cholesterol doesn’t hurt, either, but it’s a big problem. I honestly think that the general population doesn’t understand that their mouth is part of their body. – Danine Fresch Gray, DDS, general dentist, Arlington, Virginia

If your hands bled when you washed them, you’d run to the doctor. But in the public’s mind, bleeding gums are okay. Unless you’re really whaling away with your brush, if your gums bleed even a little, that’s periodontal disease, period. – Ron Schefdore, DMD, general dentist, Chicago, Illinois

The advice to see your dentist twice a year applies only if you have healthy gums. Most people don’t. – Chris Kammer, DDS, cosmetic dentist, Middleton, Wisconsin

Many of my patients have periodontal disease affecting their back teeth, but their front teeth are fine. Evidently, they brush only what others see. – Joel Slaven, DDS, general dentist, Valencia, California

Dentists often tell patients with advanced gum disease to floss more often. But flossing is useless at that point. Imagine trying to clean out the bottom of a shirt pocket with a piece of string tied to your fingers. – Reid Winick, DDS, holistic dentist, New York, New York

People come to me with a mouthful of tooth decay and say, “I got my grandfather’s soft teeth.” I don’t even know what soft teeth are. – Bryan Tervo, DDS, expert at JustAnswer.com

When someone meets you for the first time, the first thing they notice is eyes. Second is teeth, and third is hair. But people spend way more money on their hair than their teeth. – Damian Dachowski, DMD, general dentist, Horsham, Pennsylvania

Proper oral hygiene requires ten minutes of brushing and flossing every day. The average adult spends two or three minutes total, and kids do even worse. – Joel Slaven, DDS

Our Noses Still Work People who smoke try to cover it up with mints or mouthwash, but that stench is steeped into their gum tissue and the tissues in their mouth. – Jennifer Jablow, DDS, cosmetic dentist, New York, New York

Brushing doesn’t go deep enough into the gums to reach the plaque that causes bad breath. You need to floss every day and get a cleaning every few months. If you do all that and still have bad breath, I start looking into diet and checking for health problems. – Ned Windmiller, DDS, general dentist, Stillwater, Minnesota

A mouthwash with alcohol dries out your mouth—you’ll smell nice and minty for a half hour, but then the bad breath comes back worse than ever. – Gary Herskovits, DDS, family dentist, Brooklyn, New York

If your breath is bad, we won’t tell you unless you ask. – Gary Herskovits, DDS

Plus: You Think You Get Weird Requests at Your Job? Try Being a Dentist