There are some surprising things you should be doing to keep teeth healthy
We reveal 15 things your dentist would encourage you do take note of to improve your oral health.
1. Watch out for fruit teas
They might appear healthy, but did you know that some fruit teas could be three times more damaging to teeth than orange juice?
That’s the finding of research by the University of Bristol Dental School, which found the acid levels of lemon, raspberry and blackcurrant teas were particularly damaging to enamel, the protective layer of your teeth.
‘Drink a glass of water after fruit tea to rinse away acids,’ says Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling Dental Group (londonsmiling.com).
2. Anti-age your gums
‘Your gums may recede (shrink back) as you get older, making your teeth sensitive,’ says Dr Nigel Carter, of the Oral Health Foundation (dentalhealth.org). To help keep gums healthy, don’t scrub up and down when you brush – use soft, circular motions instead. And watch out for gum disease, caused by a build-up of plaque.
Signs include receding gums, blood when brushing, loose teeth and bad breath. ‘If plaque isn’t removed, the gum disease will affect the bone under the gums and this could make your teeth loose,’ warns Dr Carter.
3. Sidestep a ‘Prosecco smile’
‘The bubbles in sparkling wine are caused by carbon dioxide, which is acidic,’ says Dr Okoye.
Although this means all sparkling wines can contribute to enamel erosion, Prosecco is generally worse for your teeth than Champagne or Spanish cava because it often contains more sugar. The occasional glass of bubbly is unlikely to cause any damage, but pairing it with something alkaline like a cube of cheese will help to neutralise the acid.
4. Don’t ignore ulcers
‘Ulcers can be caused by broken teeth, poorly fitted dentures or sharp pieces of food,’ says Dr Carter. ‘Once the cause is removed, ulcers should heal within three weeks.’
If they don’t, see your dentist to rule out medical causes, such as vitamin deficiencies, viral infections, reactive arthritis and, in rarer cases, mouth cancer.
5. Fall in love with the floss
Brushing cleans only 70% of tooth surfaces, so flossing with an interdental brush, floss or tape at least once a day is a smart move.
6. Chew a gum containing xylitol
Chewing gum stimulates saliva, which is the mouth’s natural defence against acid. ‘Choose a gum containing xylitol, a natural sweetener made from birch bark, which has been shown in studies to reduce tooth decay and even reverse the decay itself by helping to replace the minerals in tooth enamel,’ explains Dr Carter.
7. Don’t graze
Eating little but very often makes it hard for your teeth’s natural defences to do their job. ‘When you graze on sugary foods throughout the day, even just in small amounts, your teeth are under constant attack,’ says Dr Okoye.
Stick to three meals a day and, if you must snack, eat the food in one go rather than grazing.
8. Know the white shirt rule
Memorise this mantra: anything that stains a white shirt will stain your teeth. ‘Use a straw when you drink anything with colour,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘In fact, using a straw with all cold drinks, including acidic and sugary drinks, is good advice as it helps avoid direct contact with teeth.’
Adding ice to drinks is smart too, as it waters them down.
9. Go electric
‘Electric brushes are great, particularly if you’ve noticed limited movement,’ says Dr Carter. ‘The handles are thicker and easier to hold and the oscillating head does most of the work. They’ve also been proven to be more effective than manual toothbrushes.’
10. Have regular check-ups
‘Looking after your teeth improves the health of your whole body,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘More than half of adults have gum disease and this causes inflammation, which over time damages blood vessels in the brain and heart. This, in turn, increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious conditions.’
Yet another reason to visit your dentist every 12-24 months.
11. Spit, don’t rinse
Don’t rinse with water after brushing, as you’ll rinse away the fluoride in your toothpaste. ‘This is particularly important at night as our saliva production drops, making teeth more liable to decay,’ explains Dr Okoye.
12. Realise sweet treats aren’t all created equal
‘Sticky, chewy sweet treats, which also includes ‘healthier’ options like dates and raisins, stick to the grooves and the crevices of your teeth,’ says Dr Okoye. ‘
Not only that, but they stay in the mouth longer than sweet foods that you quickly chew and swallow, giving your teeth a long sugar bath.’ Save these for mealtimes to minimise problems.
13. Use a magnifying mirror with a light
‘If you have problems with your hands or arms, or have poor eyesight, you may find it difficult to clean your teeth properly,’ says Dr Carter. His advice? Invest in a few extras for your bathroom.
‘A magnifying mirror and light are often helpful, and your dental team can also advise you on other useful aids, which could include items like handle adapters,’ he says.
14. Check if your medication is making your mouth dry
Medication including antihistamines, antidepressants and diuretics can make your mouth dry. Not sure if yours does? Check your medicine’s leaflet to see if it’s a side effect.
‘Saliva helps to protect your teeth against decay by neutralising acids, so if you’re not producing as much, ask your dental team for advice,’ says Dr Carter.
15. Avoid rushing to the brush
Reaching for your brush straight after that cake may seem wise, but once you’ve eaten sugary foods, your mouth becomes acidic, which makes the tooth enamel soften.
‘If you brush your teeth immediately afterwards, you’ll grind the acid from the food further into the enamel and could even brush some of your enamel away, leading to erosion and sensitivity,’ says Dr Okoye.
‘Always wait an hour after eating before brushing your teeth.’