National Smile Month is the perfect opportunity for you to pay extra attention to the importance of oral health. With this in mind, Karen Coates, Dental Advisor at the British Dental Health Foundation, has eight top tips for terrific teeth.
1. Visit the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend
It doesn't matter how old you are, or how many teeth you have, you should always follow your dentist's advice about how often they need to see you.
So why are check-ups so important? Well, for starters prevention is always better than cure. Regular visits to the dentist can identify problems developing early, and more importantly set you on a path to rectify them.
There's a chance everyone will suffer from gum disease at some point in their lives - it's that common - so do remember to get to your dentist or hygienist as often as they recommend.
2. Take diet into consideration
Diet may have a large impact on the growing obesity problem in the UK, but there's no escaping the damage a poor diet does to our teeth.
One of the Foundation's key messages is ‘cut down how often you have sugary foods and drinks'. This is a particularly important message for parents to remember. The more often your child has sugary or acidic foods or drinks, the more likely they are to have decay. It is therefore important to keep sugary and acidic foods to mealtimes only. Food and drinks which are kindest to teeth include cheese, crackers, breadsticks, raw vegetables, plain water and milk.
It is also worth remembering that some processed baby foods contain quite a lot of sugar. Try checking the list of ingredients - the higher up the list sugar is, the more there is in the product. Sometimes, these are shown as fructose, glucose, lactose, or sucrose.
3. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste
It's important to brush your teeth first thing in the morning and just before you go to bed for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste. Why? During the night the flow of saliva, which is the mouth's cleaning system, slows down. This leaves the mouth more at risk to decay; therefore brushing acts as a preventive measure.
Fluoride is an incredibly important addition to the toothpaste we use. It's also found in drinking water across the country. There are different levels depending on how old you are. All children up to three years old should use a toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1000ppm (parts per million). After three years old, the Foundation recommends you use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm-1500ppm. If you're unsure how much fluoride is on a particular brand, check the packaging for the Foundation's approved symbol for reassurance.
4. Indulge in interdental cleaning
As brushing alone only cleans around two thirds of the mouth, it is important to use interdental brushes or floss to clean away any food debris caught between the teeth. It can help to reduce the risk of gum disease. Given that gum disease has been linked to heart problems, pneumonia and even pancreatic cancer to name but a few, interdental cleaning at least once a day isn't too much to ask!
5. Get empowered with a power toothbrush
Rigorous tests have proven electric toothbrushes with small round oscillating rotating heads to be up to twice as effective at removing plaque than a manual brush. Many also have two minute timers to ensure you clean for the recommended period of time. Some such as the Oral B Triumph with Smart Guide also have a remote display to help your brush for the correct time and sensors to show you when you are brushing too hard. Look for the British Dental Health Foundation accredited logo which shows that the claims the product is making have been scientifically proven.
6. Remember the one hour rule
It takes an average of 40 minutes for the mouth to neutralise the acid caused by eating or drinking sugar. Therefore it is best to wait at least one hour after eating before brushing teeth. Eating or drinking weakens the enamel on the teeth, meaning if you brush too soon it cause tiny particles of the enamel to be brushed away. You can help to speed up the time that is takes for the saliva to neutralise these plaque acids and lessen the damage that they can cause by chewing sugar-free gum containing Xylitol, rinsing with a fluoride mouthrinse or plain water.
7. Teeth are not tools!
Although you can't legislate for genuine accidents, please remember your teeth aren't tools. If your party trick is to open a bottle of beer with your teeth, or if you're always biting open the crisp packet, you're actually doing your teeth more harm than good.
If you somehow lose a tooth, the important thing to remember is not to panic. Get to the emergency dentist as soon as possible, as with the right care, the tooth could be successfully put back into the socket. Ideally you should try and put it back in straight away, without handling the root.
The best chance of having your tooth successfully put back in is to keep the tooth in the cheek. If this isn't possible, keep it in some milk until you receive the necessary emergency dental work. The sooner you can do this the better.
8. Think about appearance
If you have a great oral hygiene routine, or even if you don't, there's no reason why you can't think about some cosmetic treatment to help brighten or restore your smile. People who smoke, drink red wine and lots of coffee may find over time their teeth become stained. There are toothpastes available that can remove these stains, but they won't alter the natural shade of your teeth. It's always best to have a good chat with your dentist about the options, which can include tooth whitening, crowns or veneers.