Ann Graham September 11, 2014

According to the British Dental Health Foundation, 31% of adults in the UK have tooth decay, three in every ten adults suffer from regular dental pain and over four-fifths of the UK population have at least one filling (i).

It’s tempting to ignore your teeth despite them being an essential part of your wellbeing. People worry about the pain of treatment when in fact the pain after neglect is a lot worse and a whole lot more expensive.

Why is good dental health important?

Orthodontist Dr Guy Deeming says poor oral health can be linked to many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

“Dental health is one of those things where prevention is better than cure. We use our mouth all the time, people look at it; it’s part of our social interaction. Poor oral health can cause distress, pain and inconvenience. If left unchecked, poor oral health can lead to decay, gum disease, infections and tooth removal.”

Smoking is particularly bad for oral health since it increases harmful bacteria in the mouth and reduces blood flow to the gums and supporting tissues.

Symptoms of poor oral health

Some of the most common symptoms of poor oral health and gum disease are:

• Pain

• Discomfort

• Bleeding gums

• Teeth moving

• Broken teeth

• Gaps between teeth appearing

• Unpleasant taste in mouth

“These days, people have their teeth for longer, which makes it all the more important to look after them,” says Dr Deeming.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease occurs when the gums and supporting tissue around the teeth become swollen and inflamed. It is caused by a build-up of bacterial plaque on the teeth’s surface. Gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults (ii).

“Gum disease is becoming more and more common,” says Dr Deeming. “Sore and bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease. If your adult teeth begin to move, this can also be a sign of early gum disease affecting the tissue supporting your teeth.”

Top tips for good dental health

1. Visit the dentist regularly

‘On your first visit’, says Dr Deeming, ‘your dentist will assess the health of your teeth and gums and assign a risk category to you. This may mean you need to come back in three months, or it may mean you don’t need to come back for 18 months. Either way, if you haven’t seen your dentist for a while, book an appointment today!’

2. Use fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in some foods and water and is believed to reduce tooth decay. Not all water contains fluoride – in many areas of the UK, fluoride has been removed from the water supply – so it is important to brush your teeth with an age appropriate fluoride toothpaste (iii).

3. Avoid sports drinks

“Tooth decay, as a result of drinking sports drinks and vitamin waters, is one of the biggest problems we now see, particularly in teenagers,” says Dr Deeming. “People think they are choosing the healthy option by going for one of these drinks, but in fact they’re doing the opposite. The best thing to do is avoid them completely.”

4. Brush twice a day

“Previously, it was recommended people brush their teeth after every meal or snack, but they are now advised to brush their teeth properly twice a day,” says Dr Deeming. “This equates to three-to-five minutes of brushing with a good quality toothbrush, followed by flossing.” Electric toothbrushes can be helpful for those who have difficulty in gripping the slim handle of a basic toothbrush.

Brushing before bedtime is essential because the flow of saliva in the mouth slows during the night, leaving teeth more at risk of decay.

5. Avoid high sugar foods

According to the British Dental Health Foundation, every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour (iv). The sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque, forming the acid that destroys tooth enamel. “Try to avoid high sugar foods, especially when snacking,” Dr Deeming says. “Carb based foods, such as nuts and seeds, are much better for your teeth and overall health.”

Drinking water or milk after eating can help protect your tooth enamel, while following a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, fresh fruit and vegetables can help prevent gum disease.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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