Oral health

Looking after your oral health is an important part of maintaining your general health and wellbeing. By looking after your oral health, you can also avoid the need for dental treatment.

Brushing your teeth

Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste for about two minutes twice a day will help to keep your teeth and mouth healthy. Brushing prevents plaque, a film of bacteria, from building up. If you do not brush regularly, plaque can contribute to gum disease and tooth decay.

You should brush your teeth for about two minutes last thing at night before you go to bed and at another time during the day. For most people, brushing when they get up in the morning is the most convenient time.

It is important to make sure you brush every surface on your teeth to make sure they are free from plaque.  You should also avoid rinsing your mouth with water straight after brushing. This will rinse away the concentrated fluoride in the toothpaste.

Using mouth wash

Rinsing your mouth with a mouthwash which contains fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay. You shouldn’t use mouthwash, even one containing fluoride, straight after brushing, as this can wash away the concentrated fluoride in your toothpaste.

Choose a different time to use mouthwash, such as after lunch or dinner, and do not eat or drink for 30 minutes afterwards.

Flossing your teeth

Flossing and interdental brushes aren’t just for dislodging food from between your teeth; it can also reduce gum disease and bad breath by removing plaque from along the gum line. It is best to floss before brushing your teeth.

When flossing your teeth, you should:

  • take 12-18 inches (30-45cm) of floss and hold it so you have a couple of inches taught between your hands
  • using a gentle pressure, slide the floss between your teeth, until it reaches the point the gum is attached to the tooth
  • floss up and down between each tooth, to dislodge food or plaque

Ask your dentist to show you how to floss your teeth, as it is possible to damage your gums.

Interdental brushes may be an easier and more effective alternative for most people. Your dentist can help you to choose the best size for your teeth.

Dental check-ups

Going for regular dental check-ups will give your dentist the chance to detect any oral health problems early. This will make treatment much easier. Leaving problems untreated can mean they are much more difficult, sometimes even impossible, to treat.

During a check-up, your dentist will:

  • examine your teeth, gums and mouth
  • ask about your health and, in particular, any problems you’ve experienced with your teeth, gums and mouth
  • ask about and advise you on your diet, smoking and alcohol use
  • advise you on oral hygiene and teeth cleaning
  • discuss a date for your next visit

Most people assume they should go for a check-up every six months, but this can vary depending on your dental health. Some people may need to visit their dentist as regularly as every three months.

Diet and oral health

A healthy, balanced diet is important for your oral health, as what you eat and drink can cause tooth decay.

More information on maintaining a healthy diet can be found in our Healthy eating for ages and stages section.

One important part of a healthy diet is limiting the amount and frequency of sugar you eat and drink in order to avoid tooth decay.

A lot of the sugar we consume is in food and drinks such as:

  • sweets, chocolate and biscuits
  • sugary drinks including fizzy drinks and alcohol
  • fruit juice, including smoothies
  • pastries
  • table sugar added to drinks such as tea and coffee
  • sugary breakfast cereals
  • ice cream
  • jams and marmalades
  • ketchup and sauces
  • yoghurts

Reducing the frequency with which you consume of these foods and drinks will help you to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Alcohol and smoking

Many alcoholic drinks are acidic and can erode the enamel on the surface of your teeth. If this happens, you may need to go to your dentist for treatment to replace the lost enamel.

As well as damaging your teeth, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol has also been linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers, including cancer of the mouth.

Smoking cigarettes can stain your teeth, cause bad breath and increases your risk of gum disease as well as significantly increasing your risk from certain cancers, including mouth cancer.

The most significant risk factor for mouth cancer is the effects of smoking and drinking alcohol.

People who drink and smoke heavily are 38 times more likely to develop mouth cancer compared to people who neither drink nor smoke.

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