06 JUNE 2024

New research by the Oral Health Foundation reveals the five most common oral health conditions affecting adults in the UK.

The data, collected as part of the charity’s National Smile Month campaign, shows more than three-in-four (76%) adults have experienced dental problems in the past year.

The Oral Health Foundation says these results show how common oral health problems are and that knowing more is a critical step for preventing them. During National Smile Month, the charity is helping everyone understand why good oral health is important and how you can take steps to keep your teeth and gums healthy. 

Dental experts have given advice on the five most common oral health problems, and how you can manage and prevent them.

Sensitive teeth

Suffering with sensitive teeth is the most common oral health problem in the UK, affecting more than one-in-three (35%) adults.

 Often characterised by a sharp pain in your teeth, sensitivity often happens when you eat or drink something hot, cold, or sweet. This can happen if you brush too hard, have gum disease, or eat a lot of acidic foods and drinks which can damage your teeth.

Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, says: “Living with sensitive teeth can be a silent struggle, often unseen but highly uncomfortable. Brushing with the correct pressure, using a toothpaste designed for sensitivity, and having a diet low in acidic food and drinks are the keys to managing sensitive teeth and reclaiming a pain-free smile.”

Bleeding gums

Bleeding gums, a condition often spotted when brushing or flossing, is another common oral health issue, affecting 34% of adults in the past year. This is typically a sign of gum disease, which can range from the reversible stage of gingivitis to the more severe and irreversible stage of periodontitis. 

Miranda Steeples, a dental hygienist and dental therapist, who is also President of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, says: “Bleeding gums are a red flag, signalling inflammation due to plaque and debris left on the teeth. Don't overlook this sign. Regular and thorough brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day, cleaning between the teeth, and a good mouthwash if needed, can help remove plaque and ward off gum disease.

“Routine dental check-ups are key for early detection and treatment of gum disease. Prevention is the best strategy to avoid dental issues.”


Toothache is the third most common oral health problem in the UK, experienced by nearly one-in-four (24%) adults.

 Unlike having sensitive teeth, a toothache is a constant pain in or around a tooth. It can be caused by a variety of issues such as tooth decay, an abscessed tooth, a damaged filling, or a tooth fracture. The pain from a toothache is persistent and doesn’t go away when the hot, cold, or sweet stimulus is removed.

"Enduring a toothache can be a relentless ordeal, impacting not just your oral health but your overall wellbeing," adds Dr Carter. "At home, you can alleviate the pain with over-the-counter pain relievers and by avoiding extremely hot or cold foods. However, these are temporary solutions. If the pain persists, it's a signal that your body needs professional help.

“Neglecting a toothache can lead to serious complications, including abscesses, spread of infection, tooth loss, and even a decreased quality of life. It's crucial to seek professional dental care if you're experiencing persistent toothache. Don't suffer in silence.”

Dry mouth

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a prevalent oral health issue in the UK, affecting nearly one-in-six (17%) adults. This condition is often characterised by a persistent feeling of dryness in the mouth, which can be due to various factors such as medication side effects, certain medical conditions, or dehydration.

"Living with dry mouth can be a daily challenge, often overlooked but causing significant discomfort,” adds Ms Steeples. “Staying hydrated, using a saliva substitute, and maintaining good oral hygiene are the keys to managing dry mouth and reclaiming a comfortable oral environment. If you're experiencing persistent dry mouth, it's important to seek professional dental advice to prevent further complications."

Bad breath

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, is another prevalent oral health issue in the UK, affecting nearly one-in-six (17%) adults. This is an unpleasant smell from the mouth, which can be caused by various factors such as poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, or certain foods and drinks.

Dr Carter says: "Living with bad breath can be extremely difficult often unnoticed by the individual but affecting their social interactions. Regular and thorough brushing and flossing, staying hydrated, and maintaining a balanced diet are the keys to managing bad breath and reclaiming fresh breath. If you're experiencing persistent bad breath, it's important to seek professional dental advice as it could be a sign of a more serious oral health issue."

Maintaining good oral health is of great importance, not just for a radiant smile, but for overall well-being. Oral health is a window to your general health, with gum disease sometimes associated with heart disease, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions. Regular dental care can prevent these problems, enhance self-esteem, and contribute to a better quality of life.

Ms Steeples says: "Oral health is a commitment that pays off in the long run. Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste keeps your teeth and gums healthy. Be mindful of your sugar intake, both in terms of quantity and frequency. Regular visits to your dental team are crucial for early detection and treatment of any potential issues. Remember, prevention is better than cure."

For more information and advice about oral health, visit www.smilemonth.org.