Poor oral hygiene not only ruins teeth but can contribute to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and pneumonia.
Earlier this week it was announced that NHS dentistry fees in England would rise by 8.5 per cent from April 24. A band one treatment, such as a check-up, will increase from £23.80 to £25.80 and a band two, which includes fillings and tooth extractions, will increase from £65.20 to £70.70. Costs for dentures and crowns under band three treatments are set to rise from £282.80 to £306.80.
The announcement comes after a YouGov poll revealed that some people are extracting their own teeth and attempting DIY root canal treatment to avoid dental costs. Some 22 per cent are currently not on the books of a dental practice with the majority of those unable to access, or afford, treatment.
However, good dental health is essential. Not only is a smile one of the first things we notice about someone (a third of Britons wouldn’t date someone with bad teeth), but poor oral hygiene also contributes to certain health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, pneumonia and pregnancy complications.
As with many things, prevention is key. Here are 20 dentist-backed tips to keep your teeth in top shape.
Brush before breakfast
Many of us were brought up being told to clean our teeth after breakfast, but Dr Sulaman Anwar, a specialist periodontist, says advice has since changed.
“I often get asked this question by patients,” adds Dr Anwar. “We now believe it’s best to brush first thing, before breakfast. Even though we clean our teeth at night, while we sleep we produce very little saliva (which has antibacterial properties) so bacteria and plaque builds up every night. If we don’t clean this away before eating, we are essentially feeding the bacteria.”
Swap red wine for gin and tonic – and cut back on coffee
Unfortunately, many of our favourite food and drinks can cause tooth pigmentation and they’re best avoided, advises Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling.
“Teeth naturally discolour with age, but it can be accelerated by consuming pigmented food and drinks,” adds Dr Okoye. “Anything that stains a white shirt will stain your teeth – deep, dark foods like curry, soy sauce and berries, and drinks like coffee, tea and red wine. If you can bear it, swap your coffee for matcha, it’s known to have protective properties that support gum health. Swapping red wine for a gin and tonic (no lemon, too acidic) and sipping via a straw will also help reduce stains.”
Clean your gums and tongue
“Always brush your gums, as this is where the harmful bacteria collects, and gum disease is the main reason for tooth loss,” advises says Dr Mervyn Druian, from The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry. “Glide the toothbrush thoroughly and gently over your gums as they are more sensitive and brush down towards the tooth, not up as this heightens your gum line and can expose the tooth root.”
Using a tongue scraper or your toothbrush to clean your tongue also helps remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
Get the right toothbrush
“While teeth can be cleaned perfectly well with a manual toothbrush, I favour the electric,” says Dr Okoye. “I use the analogy of using the washing machine to clean clothes versus washing them by hand. Both will get your clothes clean, but the machine does it so much better and faster. Studies have shown that you remove twice as much plaque when you use an electrical toothbrush compared to a manual one.”
Don’t rinse after brushing
“After brushing our teeth, we might be tempted to spit out the toothpaste and then rinse with water to remove the remaining residue,” says Dr Parneet Sehmi, from Hermes London Dental Clinic. “However, rinsing after brushing can wash away the fluoride which continues to help protect your teeth throughout the day.”
Use fluoride toothpaste
“Fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay and therefore, cavities,” explains Dr Tara Francis from Enhance by Tara. “Adding an antimicrobial mouthwash into your teeth-cleaning regime at a separate time to brushing is another great way to get an extra boost of fluoride throughout the day.”
Watch where you keep your toothbrush
“You would be surprised by the number of people who keep their toothbrush on top of the loo, where it’s more likely to be exposed to fecal bacteria that’s splashed into the air when you flush,” says Dr Druian. “Try and keep your toothbrush in the open air to dry as a moist environment (toothbrush cap, closed cabinet) helps bacteria to reproduce at a faster rate.”
Never share a toothbrush
“I strongly advise that you never share a toothbrush with anyone else – not even a family member,” advises Dr Sehmi. “Germs, bacteria and infections can easily be transferred through the mouth.”
Eat crunchy fruits and vegetables
“Crunchy fruits and vegetables – like apples and carrots – can help remove plaque from your teeth and promote saliva production,” says Payal Bhalla, of Quest Dental. “Plus, they’re good for your overall health, so it’s a win-win.”
Replace your toothbrush regularly
“Most of us know that we need to replace our toothbrushes every three months, as a worn toothbrush doesn’t remove plaque very well,” says Dr Sehmi. “However, you should also should be replacing your toothbrush (or toothbrush head) after recovering from a cold, virus or infection.”
Ditch mouthwash after brushing
“Using mouthwash that contains fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay. However, it’s not advisable to use mouthwash straight after brushing because it can wash away the fluoride from the toothpaste,” advises Dr Jethwa. “The more fluoride that remains on the teeth, the better.”
Chew sugarless gum
“Chewing sugarless gum after meals can help increase saliva flow, which helps wash away food particles and neutralize acids,” says Dr Bhalla.
Don’t brush in the shower
Find yourself brushing your teeth while showering? You’re not alone. With our lives becoming increasingly busier and the morning rush a real thing, you might find yourself multi-tasking. But Dr Bhalla advises against this time-saving hack.
“Hot water in the shower can cause the bristles of your toothbrush to soften, which can make it less effective in cleaning your teeth,” adds Dr Bhalla. “While most electric toothbrushes are waterproof, I wouldn’t recommend submerging them in water as it could also damage the mechanism.”
Not only is it delicious, but cheese has some surprisingly good dental hygiene benefits. “Cheese contains high levels of calcium, as well as phosphorus – a mineral that keeps teeth healthy by promoting the absorption of calcium,” explains Dr Sam Jethwa of Bespoke Smile.
“Both of these naturally strengthen teeth and bones. Eating cheese also helps to balance the pH level in the mouth and reduces acid which can cause the erosion of teeth enamel.”
Learn to brush correctly – and always floss
It may seem simple, but learning to brush correctly can do wonders for your oral health.
“Don’t brush too hard, as this can cause enamel abrasion,” advises Dr Alan Clarke, from Paste Dental. “We know everyone hates flossing, but it’s so important for getting rid of food particles between your teeth. It’s a total game-changer and just as important as brushing.
“Lastly, make sure you’re brushing for long enough. Two minutes twice a day is the recommended amount of time, so set a timer or play your favourite song to pass the time.”
Clean your retainers
“Many of us wear retainers overnight, but make sure you’re cleaning them every so often using a regular disinfectant to prevent bacteria build-up,” advises Dr Safa Al-Naher, of Serene Dental.
While vaping is less damaging to teeth than smoking, it’s not without its risks. “Vaping leads to a dry mouth by reducing the salivary flow to the oral tissues, which can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath,” says Dr Clarke. “Vaping also exposes your teeth to chemicals such as Formaldehyde, Acrolein and Acetaldehyde which are produced when e-liquids are heated. These chemicals can erode tooth enamel.”
Wait to brush after eating
“The acid in the foods we eat can soften the enamel – a protective coating that keeps our teeth in perfect condition – therefore brushing too soon can damage that enamel,” says Dr Sehmi. “Instead, wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth. It’s also beneficial to rinse away food debris with a glass of water shortly after meals.”
Cut down on sugar
“Interestingly, it’s not how much sugar you consume, but more the frequency at which sugar touches your teeth throughout the day that can cause issues,” explains Dr Francis. “If you’re going to have something sweet keep it to a mealtime, rather than at random intervals throughout the day, and try to avoid sugary teas and coffees, as well as hidden sugars in smoothies and fruit juices.”
Don’t ignore serious issues
As expensive as dentist trips can be, it is recommended to visit your dentist regularly, especially if you are experiencing discomfort or pain. Dr Francis says: “Oral health checks are also really beneficial as oral cancer screenings take place at every visit too.”