Oral self care

Looking after your teeth before picking up a toothbrush

Teeth do not develop decay or die off naturally. Almost all dental diseases are preventable through a healthy lifestyle and good oral hygiene routine.

You can improve your oral health – and health in general – by cutting down on sugar, not smoking and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.

Sugary food and drinks are one of the main causes of tooth decay. Bacteria in your mouth react with the sugars causing acid. This acid then dissolves the tooth surface and is the first stage of tooth decay. 

There are hidden sugars in many foods. For example raisins, dried fruits and fresh fruit juice contain hidden sugars and can be a major cause of decay, especially in young children, so they are best just eaten at meal times. There is also sugar in foods such as bread, tomato ketchup, flavoured yoghurts, cereal bars and fruit smoothies. 

Fizzy drinks are carbonated and are acidic. Therefore even in diet fizzy drinks which don’t contain sugar, the acid can wear away the enamel that protects your teeth, making them more prone to decay.

Teeth-brushing advice for adults

The best way to make sure you have healthy teeth and minimise your need to go to the dentist is to look after your teeth at home.

Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste (containing 1,350 to 1,500ppm of fluoride).

  • Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day – once last thing at night and on at least one other occasion during the day – to remove plaque and prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Brush all surfaces of your teeth in a systematic way.
  • Before bed is the most important time to brush your teeth. While we sleep our teeth are the most prone to decay and so brushing before going to bed removes bits of food and bacteria.
  • Don't brush immediately after eating. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.
  • Avoid brushing too hard as this can cause damage to the enamel that protects teeth and causes gums to recede. We recommend using a soft, small-headed toothbrush and don’t press on too hard.
  • After brushing, spit don’t rinse. Rinsing washes away the concentrated fluoride that remains on your teeth after spitting out excess toothpaste. If you want to use mouthwash, this should be used at another time to brushing.
  • If your gums bleed while brushing your teeth, this is not a sign you are brushing too hard. Gums bleed because of plaque and bacteria on your teeth, so bleeding is a sign to brush more. Regular brushing will reduce the plaque and bacteria and promote healthy gums, which should reduce bleeding when brushing.
  • There are a number of different aids to help you clean between your teeth. These include floss and small interdental brushes. Your dentist or hygienist will advise on what is best for your teeth and how to use them.
  • More advice on brushing your teeth can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/how-to-keep-your-teeth-clean/ 

Looking after your teeth is important as there are links between oral health and a wide range of general health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia.

Dental self care for children

Tooth decay in children aged under five in the north west is higher than the England average. 

Tooth decay remains the number one reason for young children to be admitted to hospital for an operation to have teeth removed. The number of operations for children having teeth removed is higher in the north west than the England average.

  • Current figures show that one in five children in the UK require teeth removals, however in the north west this is one in three children.

Tooth decay is preventable and simple daily behaviours can prevent decay from occurring.

To prevent tooth decay in children:
Reduce the amount and frequency of foods and drinks that contain sugars.

  • Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste last thing at night and at least one other occasion.
    • Under 3s should use a smear of toothpaste.
    • 3-6-year-olds should use a pea sized amount.
    • Children and young people seven years and older should continue brushing with a fluoride paste
  • After brushing spit out, do not rinse.
  • Children’s brushing should be supervised up to the age of at least seven years.
  • Take your child to the dentist when the first tooth appears, at about six months, and then on a regular basis.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that occurs in bones and teeth. It is also found naturally in water, soil, plants, rocks, and food and drinks such as beer, fish and tea.

It is most recognised for being used in toothpaste and water, to prevent tooth decay and build strong teeth.

Fluoride occurs naturally in water in some areas and is artificially added to water supplies in some parts of England. Fluoride can also be added to milk and salt.

Fluoridated toothpastes have helped to reduce tooth decay rates around the world.

How does fluoride work?

Fluoride strengthens teeth and reduces the risk of tooth decay. The fluoride in toothpaste works in different ways, it can:

  • Re-mineralise tooth enamel (the hard outer layer of teeth).
  • Reverse or slow down early tooth decay.
  • Strengthen the enamel on teeth to prevent new decay.
  • Protect teeth from decay-causing bacteria in plaque.

It is important fluoride from the toothpaste stays on the teeth for as long as possible, which is why we advise just to spit out and not to rinse or use mouthwash after brushing – as this will wash all the protective fluoride away. 

Toothpastes containing 1350 to 1500ppm fluoride are the most effective. Your dentist may prescribe a higher strength toothpaste if you or your child is at increased risk of tooth decay.

Dentists can also provide high-strength fluoride varnish which is recommended to be used on all children at least every six months and can be also used for adults at increased risk of tooth decay.

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