Here in the UK, we’re famed for our teeth – for all the wrong reasons. The stereotypical British grin is a discoloured, crooked affair, and it’s set to get worse rather than better.
New research by Floe Oral Care has found that just 44% of adults brushed their teeth once or more each day during lockdown, and only one in eight hit the recommended twice daily quota. With huge waiting lists since dentists reopened in June, it’s never been more important to take responsibility for our gnashers.
But this isn’t just about bad breath or a couple of fillings. Good oral hygiene can affect your overall health, increasing your risk of deadly conditions such as heart disease and more severe Covid-19 symptoms, according to new research in the Californian Dental Association Journal.
So if you’ve let your dental habits slide this year, we’ve got a host of expert tips to help you brush up on your act.
The whole tooth
“We all have a film of bacteria that builds up on our teeth,” says Professor Damien Walmsley, a scientific advisor for the British Dental Association. “Everyone knows we need to brush the bacteria away, but people forget about the importance of gum health.”
Yep, your gums are more important than you might realise. Research has uncovered links between periodontal (gum) disease and other more serious conditions, including increased risk of oesophageal and gastric cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. Meanwhile, a 2019 study in Experimental Biology found that bacterial toxins connected with Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis can travel throughout the body, spreading from the mouth to the brain.
The University of Southampton also found a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The good news is it’s never too late to turn things around.
A study by the Forsyth Institute suggests treating gum disease can help prevent heart disease, while it’s also been found to help reduce pain caused by arthritis. Researchers at Peninsula College Of Medicine and Dentistry found it can help to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, too.
Time to change!
Public Health England recommends replacing your toothbrush at least every three months, but according to a study by Colgate, only 41% of us change ours twice a year.
Also ditch your old brush if you’ve been unwell, as germs live and grow on damp brush bristles.
Brush up on your skills
The advice from professionals is simple: “Brush twice a day (including before bed) for two minutes using fluoride toothpaste, and floss once, preferably before brushing, to remove plaque and food particles toothbrushes can’t always reach,” says Damien.
There’s some evidence that electric brushes are better at removing plaque, but most dentists agree the main thing is to brush regularly with whatever you prefer. We all know it’s good for us – but why is it so hard to find time to floss?
“Start by committing to floss just one tooth each day,” says Katie Davis, dentist and CEO of dental subscription Myhabox.co.uk. “We all have time and energy to do one, and it helps you form a habit. Most likely, once you’ve done one, you’ll feel like doing more. Alternatively, if you use toothpick flossers, hook one over the top of your toothbrush so that the next time you come to brush your teeth it’s there, reminding you to floss.”
If you have particular concerns, try one of Spotlight Oral Care’s range of flosses for gum disease, tooth whitening or decay, £5.95 each. Symptoms of gingivitis – the early stages of gum disease – include red, swollen or bleeding gums, which require a trip to the dentist. If left untreated, it can become full-blown periodontal disease, affecting the bones and tissue under your teeth and potentially leading to loose teeth and persistent bad breath.
How to get the kids involved
Dealing with a reluctant brusher can be stressful, but you’re setting them up for a lifetime of healthy habits. Believe it or not, untreated tooth decay is one of the most common reasons kids end up in hospital. According to the Local Government Association, there were 44,685 extractions of teeth in youngsters in England in 2018/19.
“Brushing side by side is a lovely way to encourage kids,” says Katie. “Another tip is to keep their toothbrush downstairs, perhaps at the kitchen sink. This will help you remember to brush before breakfast, and make it more of a treat before bed, as kids love to stay downstairs as long as possible.”
Don’t dodge the dentist
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says to see your dentist at least once every two years. “Regular trips can diagnose problems early when they are easier to treat,” says Damien.
If you’re worried or have pain, swelling or damaged teeth, book an emergency appointment, call NHS 111 or see Nhs.uk for help.
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Tips for top-notch teeth
For little ones Hey Duggee: The Tooth Brushing Badge (£4.99, BBC Children’s Books), is a fun, motivating read about a lion with smelly breath. For older kids The Brush DJ app (free, App Store or Google Play) features a two minute timer and plays music of your choice.
For all Plaque disclosing tablets (available at chemists) temporarily dye plaque to help identify areas that need brushing.
Myths about good oral hygiene… busted!
Brush your teeth after every meal: False
“Brushing too soon after eating can damage enamel,” says Damien. Bacteria in your mouth help break down food, releasing acid that changes the pH of saliva and softens enamel.
Always rinse your mouth after brushing: False
“This will wash away the concentrated fluoride in the remaining toothpaste, diluting it and reducing its preventative effects,” says Damien. As for mouthwash? “This is a personal choice. If in doubt, ask your dentist or hygienist for a recommendation, but if you do use one, make sure it contains fluoride and it should be used at least an hour after brushing.”
Never eat sugar: False
“Eating sugary foods at the same time as your meal means your saliva has time to neutralise the acids that cause decay,” says Katie. “Between meals, keep tooth-friendly snacks to hand, such as cheese or veg.”
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