With Wednesday 20th March marking World Oral Health Day, it’s a great time to reassess your oral health habits and see there are any changes you can make to improve your dental health. Even just little adjustments could make a huge difference to your risk developing oral health problems and boost your confidence in your smile.
1) Best ways to brush
There’s no avoiding it - a good brushing routine is fundamental to good oral health. Make sure you’re brushing for two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque and food particles that can cause tooth decay and bad breath.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and angle the brush at 45 degrees to the gum line, brushing in small, gentle circular movements. Be careful not to scrub too hard as this can wear away tooth enamel and cause your gums to recede, as well as becoming sore. Some people find an electric toothbrush easier and more effective to use – whatever works best for you.
Tooth enamel is also softer after you’ve eaten or drunk something, particularly if it was acidic or sugary, so it’s best to wait an hour before you brush to avoid damaging your enamel.
2) Do you need to floss? No, but you DO need to clean between your teeth
If you’re not a fan of flossing, you’re not alone. Over a third of UK adults (33%) say they never floss[i]. However, leaving plaque and particles of food between your teeth every day could leave you at risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay.
It takes just a couple of minutes to clean between your teeth, so taking the time before bed will reap the benefits. The good news is that there are lots of other ways to clean between your teeth if you find flossing with traditional string floss tricky. Interdental brushes, floss harps or water/air flossers are effective, quick and easy to use, so speak to your dental team to find the right products to suit you.
3) How often should you visit the dentist?
Your dentist will usually advise how often you should visit according to the existing health of your teeth and gums, as well as other factors. Generally speaking, all adults should ensure that they visit at least once every two years. If you’re one of the lucky patients who visits the dentist regularly and is always given a clean bill of health, you could be wondering if you really need to visit so often. The answer is yes.
During a dental examination, your dentist isn’t just checking for signs of tooth decay, tooth wear, gum disease and other oral health issues; they’re also looking for signs and symptoms of other more serious conditions such as mouth cancer. Increasingly, scientific research is also finding connections between oral health and serious health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and dementia – so don’t put off that appointment!
4) Sugar isn’t always obvious
While most of us know that regularly consuming fizzy drinks, chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes and other sugar-laden items are a direct cause of tooth decay, it’s often the not-so-obvious offenders containing hidden sugars that contribute to the problem too. ‘No added sugar’ doesn’t mean sugar-free, and sugar is often disguised on packaging labels under other names such as sucrose, maltose, dextrose, and molasses.
Be mindful of fruit juices, smoothies, dried fruit and other sticky fruit products too. Although these may be ‘natural’ sources of sugar, they don’t contain the same levels of fibre you’d find in eating whole pieces of fresh fruit and your body will digest them differently, as well as being a source of sugar for your teeth.
5) Snack attack
Snacking between meals is an easy habit to get into, and we often graze throughout the day in our busy lives. Choosing tooth-friendly snacks and keeping an eye on how often we’re eating is important for our oral health.
Every time we have something to eat or drink, bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugars present in our food and produce harmful acids which can cause tooth decay. Your teeth can withstand around five exposures a day, which allows for three meals and two snacks.
Tooth-friendly snack options include vegetables, cheese, unsweetened rice cakes, wholemeal bread, and hardboiled eggs. Avoid or limit sugary items and highly refined carbohydrates such as chocolates, sweets, baked goods, dried fruit, and crisps to mealtimes.
The good news is that enjoying alcohol responsibly and within moderation is unlikely to cause problems to your general or oral health. Excessive alcohol consumption however is linked to a range of health problems.
Most seriously, drinking to excess can increase the risk of mouth cancer by four times. Those who smoke and drink are up to 30 times more likely to develop mouth cancer. In addition, many types of alcohol, such as prosecco, are sugary and acidic which can increase your risk of tooth decay and acid erosion. If you like having a sparkling smile, be aware that red wine and other dark coloured alcoholic drinks and mixers can stain your teeth.
Limit the effects of alcohol on your oral health by keeping your consumption below 14 units of alcohol a week, and drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks to stay hydrated and to rinse your mouth.
The links between smoking and serious illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and many more, are fairly well-known. Less well known are the effects that smoking can have on oral health including bad breath, gum disease, tooth loss, tooth staining and, most seriously, mouth cancer. Many dental practices offer smoking cessation support, so it’s well worth speaking to your dental practice team for tips on cutting back or quitting.
8) Whiter teeth
The desire for an Instagram-perfect smile has prompted a rise in the number of people seeking whiter teeth. You may be able to improve the appearance of your smile by brushing and flossing regularly, cutting back on staining foods and drinks such as tea, coffee, red wine and beetroot, and by using a whitening toothpaste to lift mild surface stains. However, if you want to whiten your teeth by a few shades, speak to your dentist about professional teeth whitening, which is the only safe and effective way to whiten your teeth.
By law, teeth whitening can only be carried out by a dentist or another regulated dental health profession working under the supervision of a dentist. Don’t be tempted to resort to harmful DIY whitening techniques, illegal whitening at beauty salons, or buying kits online that contain illegal and harmful levels of bleaching agents.
9) Changing your toothbrush
Dentists recommend you change your toothbrush (or brush head if you’re using an electric toothbrush) every three months. This is to ensure the bristles aren’t worn or splayed and affecting how well you can brush, as well as to reduce build-up of bacteria on your brush. This is such an easy change to make – just set a reminder on your phone or calendar to prompt you change your brush every three months.
10) Spit, don’t rinse
One of the most common oral health hiccups people make is to rinse their mouth with water after brushing. After you finish brushing, spit the toothpaste out and avoid rinsing your mouth, even with mouthwash. You want to ensure that you keep your teeth coated in toothpaste residue so that the fluoride protects your teeth for as long as possible.
If you want to use mouthwash, it’s better to use this at a different time of the day to when you brush, such as after a meal, for the same reason.
 Online survey of 5083 adults conducted by ResearchNow/Dynata on behalf of Simplyhealth, undertaken 24 January – 5 February 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+).