How do I keep my teeth and gums healthy?
It is easy to get your mouth clean and healthy, and keep it that way. A simple routine can help prevent most dental problems:
- brushing your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste
- cleaning between the teeth with ‘interdental' brushes or floss at least once a day
- good eating habits - having sugary foods and drinks less often, and regular dental check-ups.
Although most people brush regularly, many don't clean between their teeth and some people don't have regular dental check-ups. A few small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference in the long term. We can remove any build-up on your teeth and treat any gum disease that has already appeared. But daily dental care is up to you, and the main weapons are the toothbrush, toothpaste and interdental cleaning (cleaning between your teeth).
What can go wrong?
Tooth decay can be painful and lead to fillings, crowns or inlays. If tooth decay is not treated, the nerve of the tooth can become infected and die, causing an abscess. This may then need root canal treatment or even for the tooth to be removed. It is very important that you keep up a good routine at home to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Gum disease is common and, if left untreated, may lead to bone loss around the teeth. In some cases it may lead to loose teeth and teeth being lost. Gum disease is preventable. It can be treated and kept under control with regular cleaning sessions and check-ups, preventing further problems. If teeth are lost, it may be necessary to fill the gaps with bridges, dentures or implants.
What is plaque?
Plaque is a thin, sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth.
How can plaque cause decay?
When you eat foods containing sugars and starches, the bacteria in plaque produce acids, which attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth. After constant acid attack, the tooth enamel breaks down forming a hole or cavity.
How can plaque cause gum disease?
If plaque is not removed by brushing, it can harden into something called ‘calculus' - another name for it is 'tartar'. As calculus forms near the gumline, the plaque underneath releases harmful poisons causing the gums to become irritated and inflamed. The gums start to pull away from the teeth and the gaps become infected. If gum disease is not treated promptly, the bone supporting the teeth is destroyed, and healthy teeth can become loose and fall out. Severe gum disease can lead to teeth falling out and needing to be replaced.
How can I prevent gum disease?
It is important to remove plaque and bits of food from around your teeth as this will stop your gums from becoming inflamed and swollen, and becoming infected. If you leave plaque on your teeth it can harden into tartar, which can only be removed by the dentist. It is important to keep up your regular appointments so that your teeth can have a thorough cleaning if they need it.
Why is brushing important?
Daily brushing and cleaning between your teeth is important because it removes plaque. If the plaque isn't removed, it continues to build up, feeding on the bits of food left behind and causing tooth decay and gum disease.
Which type of toothbrush should I use?
We will be able to recommend a toothbrush suitable for you. However, adults should choose a small- to medium-sized brush head. This should have medium, multi-tufted, round-ended nylon bristles or 'filaments'. The head should be small enough to reach into all parts of the mouth: especially the back of the mouth where it can be difficult to reach. Children need to use smaller brushes but with the same type of filaments.
You can now buy more specialised toothbrushes. For instance, people with sensitive teeth can now use softer-bristled brushes. There are also smaller-headed toothbrushes for people with crooked or irregular teeth.
Some people find it difficult to hold a toothbrush, for example because they have Parkinson's disease or a physical disability. There are now toothbrushes which have large handles and angled heads to make them easier to use.
How do I know if I have gum disease?
Gum disease is generally painless, even though it damages the bone supporting the teeth. Gum disease (gingivitis) will usually show itself as red, swollen gums that bleed when you brush or clean between your teeth. Many people are worried when they notice their gums are bleeding and then brush more gently, or stop altogether. In fact, it is important that you continue to clean regularly and thoroughly if you are to fight the gum disease. If the bleeding does not go away within a few days come and see us for some advice.
How do electric toothbrushes work?
A power brush has an oscillating rotating or vibrating head, which provides a large amount of cleaning action with very little movement needed from the user, although you do need to position the brush correctly.
Do electric toothbrushes clean better?
Tests have shown that power toothbrushes are more effective at removing plaque. Those with heads that rotate in both directions ('oscillating' heads) are the most effective. Everyone can use a power brush. They are particularly useful for people with limited movement of the arm or hand, such as disabled or elderly people, who often find that using a normal toothbrush does not allow them to clean thoroughly. Power brushes can also be better for children as they may be more likely to brush regularly because of the novelty of using a power brush.
How often should I brush my teeth?
Be sure to brush thoroughly with a fluoride toothpaste last thing at night and at least one other time during the day. If you regularly keep getting discomfort or bleeding after brushing you should come and visit us to have your teeth and gums checked
How do I know if I have removed all the plaque?
You can stain the plaque with special dye, which you can paint onto your teeth with a cotton bud, or you can use special disclosing tablets. You can get these from your local supermarket or pharmacy. The stain is harmless and will show any areas of your mouth which need better brushing. Look particularly at where your teeth and gums meet. Further brushing will remove the stained plaque.
Should I use a fluoride toothpaste?
Yes. Fluoride helps to strengthen and protect teeth, which can reduce tooth decay in adults and children.
How often should I change my toothbrush?
Worn-out toothbrushes cannot clean your teeth properly and may damage your gums. It is important to change your toothbrush every two to three months, or sooner if the filaments become worn. When bristles become splayed, they do not clean properly.
How much toothpaste should I use?
You do not need to cover the head of your brush in toothpaste. A pea-sized amount is enough. Children should use a pea-sized smear of toothpaste.
What sort of toothpaste should I use?
As well as regular family toothpastes, there are many specialised toothpastes. These include tartar control for people who get tartar build-up, and a choice of toothpastes for people with sensitive teeth. ‘Total care' toothpastes include ingredients to help fight gum disease, freshen breath and reduce plaque build-up. ‘Whitening' toothpastes remove small amounts of staining to help restore the natural colour of your teeth, but are not strong enough to change the natural shade of the teeth.
Some children's toothpastes only have about half the fluoride that adult toothpastes have. They only give limited protection for the teeth. If your children are under 7 you should supervise them when they brush their teeth. Encourage them not to swallow the toothpaste and to just spit, not rinse, after brushing.
How should I clean between my teeth?
You can clean between your teeth with an ‘interdental’ brush or dental floss. Dental tape is thicker than floss and many people find it easier to use. Cleaning in between your teeth removes plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and under your gumline – areas a toothbrush can't reach. You should clean between your teeth at least once a day.
The following suggestions may help with flossing:
Break off about 30 centimetres (12 inches) of floss, and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the other hand. As you use the floss, you will take up the used section with this finger.
Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers, with about an inch of floss between them, leaving no slack. Use a gentle 'rocking' motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Do not jerk the floss or snap the floss into the gums.
When the floss reaches your gumline, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth until you feel resistance.
Hold the floss against the tooth. Gently scrape the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on the other side of the gap, along the side of the next tooth.
Don't forget the back of your last tooth.
When flossing, keep to a regular pattern. Start at the top and work from left to right, then move to the bottom and again work from the left to right. This way you're less likely to miss any teeth. At first it also helps to look in the mirror.
It is also very important to clean around the edges of any crowns, bridges or implants. This can be difficult to do effectively using traditional floss and there are now specialised flosses to do the job thoroughly.
Should my gums bleed whenI clean in between my teeth?
Your gums may bleed or be sore for the first few days that you clean between your teeth. This should stop once the plaque is broken up and the health of your mouth has improved. If the bleeding does not stop, let us know. It may be that you are not cleaning correctly, or that your teeth and gums need a more thorough clean by us.
Are 'oral irrigators' useful?
Oral irrigators use a stream or jet of water to remove plaque and bits of food from around your teeth. They can be particularly helpful if you wear an orthodontic appliance (‘brace') or a fixed bridge that is difficult to clean, or if you find it difficult to use interdental brushes or floss.
Should I use a mouthwash?
A fluoride mouthwash can help prevent tooth decay. We may recommend an antibacterial mouthwash to help control plaque and reduce gum disease. If you find that you are regularly using a mouthwash just to freshen your breath talk to us, because bad breath can be a sign of unhealthy teeth and gums or of poor general health.
Can my diet help?
Many people think that it is a high level of sugar in your diet that causes decay, but this is not true. It is how often you have sugar in your diet, not the amount, that causes problems. It takes up to an hour for your mouth to cancel out the acid caused by eating and drinking sugar. During this time your teeth are under attack from this acid. It is therefore important to limit the number of attacks by having sugary foods and drinks just at mealtimes. Chewing sugar-free gum and drinking water after meals or snacks can also help to cancel out the acid more quickly.
As well as causing decay, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, beer, and wine can be acidic - which can also cause ‘dental erosion'. This is when the acid in foods and drinks gradually dissolves the hard enamel coating of the tooth. This may lead to the tooth becoming sensitive.