In the past, it was accepted that getting older meant losing some or all of your teeth to tooth decay or gum disease. Thanks to advances in dentistry and a wider understanding of oral health, this is no longer the case, but many people still lose their teeth to preventable dental diseases every year.
Maintaining a healthy smile for life is the theme of 2021's Dental Health Week campaign, Keep Your Smile for Life. Dental Health Week takes place on the first week of August every year and is run by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) with help with clinics nationwide to improve awareness of the importance of preventive oral care for all ages.
If you think your oral hygiene routine could do with some improvement, you're not alone. A consumer survey by the ADA found that:
- 1 in 5 Australian adults don't brush their teeth twice a day
- Only 1 in 4 adults floss or clean between their teeth at least once daily
- 39% of parents say their children drink 2 to 5 soft drinks per week
- 47% of adults say they consume too much sugar
- Only 1 in 3 adults have a usual dentist
- 68% of adults usually visit the dentist when they have a problem
- Only 27% see their dentist regularly for a check-up
While you might not be able to prevent all dental disease, improving your oral hygiene habits can significantly lower your risks.
ADA's 4 key messages
For the best chance of keeping your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime, the ADA and dentists recommend keeping these four key messages in mind:
- Brush your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste
- Clean in-between your teeth once a day (with floss or interdental brushes)
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and limit your sugar intake
- Regularly visit the dentist for check-ups and preventive treatment
1. Brush your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste
Good toothbrushing is more than just moving toothpaste around in your mouth. How long, how often and how well you brush can all make a difference to reducing plaque and keeping your teeth healthy. The ADA recommends:
- Brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes, twice a day
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head
- Choose a toothpaste containing fluoride
- Don't press too hard – this can damage the teeth and gums
- Replace your toothbrush every 3 months
Choosing the right toothbrush
Does it really matter what toothbrush you use? More than you might think, as some toothbrushes may cause irritation or even damage your teeth. Things to look for are:
- Bristles – soft bristles are recommended for most people, but some people prefer medium bristles. Hard bristle toothbrushes should be avoided.
- Size – your toothbrush should be a comfortable size to hold and move around your mouth. Children's toothbrushes are designed for different ages and abilities.
- Electric or manual? – you or your children may benefit from an electric toothbrush if you find a manual toothbrush hard to use or you have mobility issues, but this can be a matter of preference.
Your dentist can help you or your family to choose the best toothbrush for your needs, especially if you have a specific issue such as sensitive teeth or gums.
Even if you brush twice a day, your teeth might not be getting the best clean if you don't use the right technique. Simply brushing from side to side will leave some areas untouched where food and plaque may be left behind.
To make sure your mouth is thoroughly cleaned:
- Apply a pea-sized dollop of fluoride toothpaste
- Start at the back with the toothbrush bristles touching the gumline at the bottom of the teeth
- Holding the toothbrush at a 45° angle, gently brush the tooth back and forth
- Move slowly around your mouth, brushing each tooth in turn
- Brush all three sides of the tooth: outside, inside and chewing surface
- Don't rinse straight after brushing, as fluoride in toothpaste helps to protect your teeth
Scrubbing your teeth hard won't remove more plaque, but it could damage the enamel or cause your gums to recede. Use a soft toothbrush and apply gentle pressure.
You should also brush your tongue at the same time as your teeth. Gently brush or scrape from the back to the front, spitting out any saliva.
Children will need help brushing their teeth until they are able to move the brush properly themselves. They should use low-fluoride children's toothpaste until the age of 6 or 7.
2. Clean in-between your teeth once a day
Even when you brush your teeth well, the surfaces between the teeth can still harbour bacteria, plaque or leftover food. This is why flossing is an important part of any oral hygiene routine. The ADA recommends:
- Clean between your teeth using floss or interdental brushes
- Do this at least once per day
- Start flossing children's teeth once they have two teeth touching side-by-side
If you're not used to flossing, your dentist can advise you about whether traditional floss or an interdental brush could be best for you. They can also show you how to clean between your teeth for the best results.
How to floss
Like brushing, flossing needs to be done gently and with care to avoid damaging your teeth or irritating your gums. For the best results:
- Pull off about 45cm of floss
- Wind it around both of your middle fingers and hold it between your thumbs and index fingers
- Starting at the gumline, gently clean up and down both sides of the tooth and just inside the gum
- Repeat for all teeth
Flossing may be done before or after brushing. If you don't like the feel of dental floss, your dentist might recommend an interdental brush or water flosser.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and limit your sugar intake
Brushing and flossing can fight tooth decay more effectively when you avoid food and drink that feeds bacteria in plaque. To lower your risk of tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health problems, the ADA recommends:
- Limit your added sugar intake, as it's the single biggest cause of tooth decay
- View the Nutrition Information Panel on food and drink labels to check sugar content
- Choose tap water as your drink of choice, avoiding sugar-based and/or acidic drinks
- Choose tooth-friendly snacks such as cheese, nuts and vegetables
- Avoid snacking and grazing
Cut down on sugar
How much sugar is too much? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an adult's daily sugar intake should be no more than 5% of their total energy intake. For most people, this is around 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day.
If this sounds easy, it could be harder than you think. Sugar is added to many foods and drinks during processing and manufacturing, so it's important to check the nutrition labels if you want to know how much you're consuming.
To make things more complicated, sugar is often listed under a number of different names in ingredients, so being able to recognise these will help. Learn more about hidden sugars.
Drink lots of water
Widely available and virtually free, water is the best drink for oral health. As well as helping you or your kids to avoid sugary and acidic drinks, drinking water also helps to:
- rinse away leftover food
- keep your mouth hydrated to prevent dry mouth
- protect your teeth from decay, if your local water supply has fluoride added at safe levels
4. Regularly visit the dentist for check-ups and preventive treatment
Dentists and hygienists play important roles in protecting your teeth and gums, making a regular check-up and clean a vital part of overall oral care.
The ADA recommends visiting a dentist at least once per year. Your dentist may recommend more frequent visits depending on your individual oral health needs and risk factors.
What happens at my dental visit?
During your comprehensive oral health assessment, your dentist will check your teeth and gums for signs of problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. They may also perform an oral cancer screening if you're in a risk category. If they find any problems, they will discuss your treatment options, making sure you have all the information you need to make informed decisions.
After your check-up, an oral hygienist can professionally clean and scale your teeth to polish their appearance and remove plaque and calculus that's built up since your last visit. They may also apply fluoride to your teeth and can offer advice or demonstrations about daily oral health care.
Prevention is always better than cure, and your dentist may recommend treatments for you or your children to help lower your risk of tooth decay, injuries or other problems. These may include:
- Fissure sealants to fill pits and grooves in your teeth that could expose them to decay
- Custom mouthguards to protect your teeth from injuries during sports
- Replacing missing teeth to help support your remaining teeth and prevent them from going crooked
When was your last dental check-up?
Are you due for a check-up and clean with a dentist, or do you want some advice about caring for your teeth and gums? Call our friendly team at Face Value Dental on (07) 3221 0677 or book online to make an appointment at your local dental clinic in Brisbane CBD, Albert Street, Albany Creek, Helensvale or Toowong.
Australian Dental Association. Dental Health Week 2021: ada.org.au/Dental-Health-Week/Home