Why is a healthy smile important?

An attractive and healthy smile is important when meeting people and making friends. And it can boost your confidence and help you feel good about yourself.

If you don't look after your teeth and gums properly you could suffer from a number of different conditions that will make you stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons:

  • Stained teeth

  • Tooth loss

Why is a healthy diet important for my oral health?

Every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour. This is because the sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque and produces harmful acids. Plaque is a build-up of bacteria which forms on your teeth.

It is better to have three or four meals a day rather than lots of snacks.

What is dental erosion?

Dental erosion is the gradual loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attacks. Enamel is the hard, protective coating of the tooth. If it is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed and your teeth can look discoloured and become sensitive.

Drink up

Acidic foods and drinks and fizzy drinks cause dental erosion.

Still water and milk are the best things to drink. Tea without sugar is also good for teeth as it contains fluoride.

Drink fruit juice just at mealtimes. If you want to drink fruit juices between meals, try diluting them with water.

Snacks

Avoid sugary snacks. If you need to eat between meals try these foods instead:

  • Plain popcorn.
  • Nuts.
  • Cheese.
  • Breadsticks.
  • Plain yogurt.
  • Rice cakes.
  • Unsweetened cereal.
  • Plain bagels.
  • Fresh soup.
  • Raw vegetable pieces.
  • Fresh fruit.

What effects will smoking, alcohol or taking drugs have on my oral health?

Smoking can cause tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss and - more seriously - mouth cancer. Smoking is also one of the main causes of bad breath.

Alcoholic drinks can also cause mouth cancer. If you smoke and drink you are more at risk.

Alcohol can also increase the risk of tooth decay and erosion. Some alcoholic drinks have a lot of sugar in them, and some mixed drinks may contain acids. So they can cause decay or dental erosion if you drink them often and in large amounts.

Illegal drugs can lead to a range of health problems. Smoking cannabis can have the same effects as smoking tobacco. Other drugs can cause a dry mouth and increase the risk of erosion, decay, gum disease and bad breath. Drugs can also cause you to grind your teeth, which can cause headaches and other problems. Many drugs can cause a craving for sugar, such as sweets and fizzy drinks, which can case tooth decay.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and affects the skin that lines the moist areas of the body (such as the mouth). It can be spread through oral sex. Practising safe sex and limiting the number of partners you have may help reduce your chances of getting HPV.

You may hear about teenage girls being offered the HPV vaccine to help prevent the virus. Talk to someone at your medical practice, or your parents or guardians, if you want to know more about this.

Your dentist may ask you questions about your lifestyle choices and general health because these may affect the health of your mouth.

How do I look?

Some people are unhappy with how their teeth look and feel self-conscious smiling in photos or in social situations. But you can have treatment to correct any problems.

How can I improve my smile?

An orthodontic appliance (‘brace') will straighten or move your teeth to improve their appearance and the way they work. It can also help to improve the long-term health of your teeth, gums and jaw joints by spreading the biting pressure over all the teeth.

There are many different types of brace and your dental team or orthodontist will be able to talk to you about what is best for you.

Many people want to have whiter teeth. The only person who can whiten your teeth legally for you is a dentist, although there are 'home whitening kits' you can buy, you need to be over 18 to purchase these. 

How long will I need to wear a brace?

It depends on how severe the problem is, and it may take anything from a few months to two-and-a-half years. However, most people can be treated in one to two years.

What is tooth jewellery?

Tooth jewellery involves sticking small jewels onto the teeth using dental cement. They should be fitted by a dentist, who can also easily remove them if necessary.

It is important to keep the area around the jewel clean, as plaque can easily build up around it and you will be more likely to get tooth decay.

What are the dangers of mouth piercing?

  • Infection.
  • The surrounding tissues can become inflamed.
  • Blood infections.
  • The tongue can swell.
  • Teeth can chip and break.
  • It can be difficult to talk, eat and swallow.
  • It is difficult to keep your mouth clean.
  • Dental treatment can be difficult.

How can I protect my teeth when playing sports?

A mouthguard will help protect you against broken and damaged teeth, and even a broken or dislocated jaw.

It is important to wear a professionally made mouthguard whenever you play any sport that involves contact or moving objects.

Ask your dental team about a mouthguard. It is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Top tips for teens

  • Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day. Use a toothbrush with a small- to medium-sized brush head with soft to medium bristles, and brush for two minutes.
  • You should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste that contains 1350ppm to 1500ppm fluoride. 

  • Have sugary food and drinks just at mealtimes.

  • Visit your dental team at least once a year, or as often as they recommend.

  • Clean in between your teeth with ‘interdental' brushes or floss at least once a day, to help remove plaque and food from between your teeth.

  • Use a mouthwash to freshen your breath and kill bacteria.

  • Use a straw if you have fizzy drinks, as this helps the drink to go to the back of your mouth and reduces the number of acid attacks on your teeth.

  • Wait for at least one hour after eating or drinking anything acidic before you brush your teeth.

  • Chew sugar-free gum after eating to help make more saliva and cancel out the acids which form in your mouth after eating.


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Need more advice?

If you need free and impartial advice about your oral health, contact our Dental Helpline by email or call 01788 539780 (local rate call in the UK).

Our Dental Helpline is completely confidential and has helped almost 400,000 people since opening over 20 years ago. Contact our experts by telephone, email or online enquiry, Monday to Friday, 09:00 - 17:00.