Change your habits to benefit your oral health

World Oral Health Day, is a great time to re-evaluate your oral health habits, to see if you can make some changes to help you upgrade and look after your dental health. Even just little adjustments could make a really big difference to your potential risk of developing oral health problems and encouraging confidence in your smile.

In reality, brushing your teeth properly isn’t that hard. All it takes is a little practice and knowledge of teeth brushing best practices to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your teeth healthy.

Here are some tips;

1) Best ways to brush

Realistically, brushing your teeth properly, is not that hard. All it takes is a little practice and knowledge of teeth brushing best practices to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your teeth as healthy as you can.

A good brushing routine is the foundation for good oral health. Ensure you are 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.

It is recommended to buy 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 have eaten or drunk something, especially if it was acidic or sugary, so it’s best to wait an hour before you brush to avoid damaging your enamel.

• Do not brush with an old brush! Bacteria will build up in old brushes and, brushes with bent bristles don’t clean your teeth well at all.
• Store your toothbrush in an open container, make sure they are placed away from other toothbrushes. Cross-contamination and closed containers can both result in bacteria, yeast growth and mould.

2) Do you need to floss? No, but you DO need to clean between your teeth

You may not be a fan of flossing, but you are not alone. Over a third of UK adults (33%) say they never floss[i]. But, 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 some benefits as flossing will contribute to good dental hygiene because it lifts and removes plaque and food in between your teeth. It is often the case, that the bristles of a toothbrush cannot reach deep in between teeth as much as flossing does. Flossing really will help to keep your teeth and mouth as clean as possible.

So, is flossing really necessary? Yes, flossing before you brush can help make brushing more effective. With less plaque caught between your teeth, the fluoride in your toothpaste can access more surfaces of your teeth and gums.

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 also, quick and easy to use, please speak to your dental team to find the right products to suit you.

3) How often should you visit the dentist?

Generally speaking, the lower your risk of dental problems, the longer you can wait before your next check-up. This can mean that people with good teeth and good oral health may need to attend only once every 12 to 24 months, however those with more problems will need to have check-ups and visit more often.

Your dentist will normally 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.

Remember, whilst you are having a dental examination, your dentist isn’t just checking for signs of tooth decay, tooth wear & tear, gum disease and alternative 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 treats

All of us should know that sugar is bad for our teeth, but understanding why it’s bad can be very helpful, so we can help limit its damage.

Most of us will 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.

Remember that some fruit juices, smoothies, dried fruit and other sticky fruit products may have a high sugar content 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) Snacking

Despite the growing interest in healthy eating, we all enjoy the occasional chocolate bar or a bag of crisps but as long as we find a balance between the good snacks and the not-so-good snacks, there’s nothing wrong with the odd treat every now and again. It is important to understand which food and drinks come under which category, both for our general health and for the health of our teeth.

Each time we have something to eat or drink, bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugars present in our food and can 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, so it’s not all that bad.

Foods to be cautious of, include lollipops, boiled sweets, sugar-coated breakfast cereals and sweet biscuits. For drinks, it's best to limit fizzy options (both diet and sugary) as they are acidic and can erode tooth enamel.

Tooth friendly snack options are those which are not acidic, sticky or sugary; and do not hang around too long in the mouth. They should contain tooth-friendly compounds such as the minerals and calcium, phosphorus or natural anti-bacterials which stimulate saliva which is nature's tooth cleaner.

Good, teeth friendly foods include; Carrots, apples, celery as they are crunchy in texture and give teeth an extra clean. For rich in calcium and phosphorus foods which will help to repair your tooth enamel, you could try cheese, yoghurt, wholemeal bread and plain nuts.

6) Alcohol

The good news is that enjoying alcohol in moderation is unlikely to cause problems to your general or oral health. However, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a range of health problems, so drink alcohol responsibly.

Please bear in mind, that 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, are sugar based and acidic which can escalate your risk of tooth decay and acid erosion. If you enjoy an alcoholic drink, but enjoy having a bright smile, be aware that red wine and other dark coloured alcoholic drinks and mixers can stain your teeth.

Control the effects of alcohol on your oral health by knowing your drinking is below 14 units of alcohol a week. It is also good to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks to cleanse your mouth and stay hydrated.

6) Smoking

People who choose to smoke are more likely to cause bacterial plaque. This is because smoking will limit your mouth’s ability to fight off infection, leaving you defenceless against bacteria. This build-up of plaque may lead to gum disease, which is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults.
A lack of oxygen in the bloodstream can also affect your gums as smoking makes it more difficult for infected gums to heal.
The links between smoking and serious illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and many more, are fairly well-known, but, it is also important to understand that smoking can have a negative effect on oral health as it can lead to 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 a perfect smile has encouraged a big 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, using whitening toothpaste, and to cut back on staining foods and drinks to help lift mild surface stains. But 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, as these can potentially harm your teeth in the long run.

9) Change your toothbrush

Most dentists agree you should change your toothbrush or brush head for electric toothbrushes, every three months, because germs can hide in toothbrush bristles and lead to reinfection. Even if you haven't been sick, fungus and bacteria can develop in the bristles of your toothbrush - another reason to change your toothbrush regularly.

This is to ensures that the bristles are not separated, worn or damaged in anyway as this will affect how well you can brush, as well as reducing the build-up of bacteria on your brush. This is such a simple change to make, so perhaps you could set a reminder on your phone or diary to prompt you changing your brush every three months.

10) Spit, don’t rinse

Don't rinse with water straight after toothbrushing, spit the toothpaste out and keep away from rinsing your mouth, even with mouthwash. This is because rinsing will wash away the concentrated fluoride in the remaining toothpaste. This dilutes it and reduces it preventative effects.

You want to ensure to keep your teeth coated in toothpaste residue so that the fluoride protects your teeth for as long as possible.
When using mouthwash, it’s best to use this at a different time from when you brush so you may find it more beneficial to mouthwash after a meal instead.

[1] 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+).

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