Statistics show only 6% of adults were edentate, or had no teeth, in 2009, compared with 37% in 1968. Yet according to the Adult Dental Health Survey, only 10% of us have “excellent” oral health and 83% have some level of gum disease.
Dentist Dr. Susan Tanner says: “With the right advice, routine and technique, you should be able to have healthy teeth all your life.”
Dr. Simon Khoury, a private and NHS dentist from Bath, agrees: “Some of my patients don’t have a single filling.”
So how can we make teeth last for ever? We asked the experts…
1. GET THE CORRECT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
A. DITCH FANCY PASTES
“Fluoride is the most important component of toothpaste and in the prevention of tooth decay,” says Dr. Will Carter, cosmetic dentistry specialist at the Queensway Dental Clinic in Teesside.
“Whitening pastes can be abrasive, making teeth prone to staining and they can’t whiten significantly as no more than 0.1% bleach can be added.
“Don’t bother with enamel building paste,” says Dr. Jeremy Hill of The Centre of Dental Excellence in Essex.
“Ingredients to remineralize teeth are too small to make a difference.”
B. THE BUDS AND THE BEES
After brushing, Harley Street dentist Dr. Dana York says put bee propolis liquid along the gum line.
“Propolis is gathered by bees from buds and bark to disinfect the hive. It keeps decay at bay.”
TRY: Bee Health Propolis Tincture, 30ml, nutricentre.com
C. TONGUE TWISTER
“To some extent the tongue is self-cleaning,” says Dr. Asif Chatoo, orthodontist at the London Lingual Orthodontic Clinic.
“However, the deep grooves means it stores bacteria that could damage teeth. Try a scraper.”
TRY: DenTek Tongue Cleaner, thehealthcounter.com
D. WHICH MOUTHWASH?
“Don’t use mouthwashes containing alcohol as these have been linked to an increased risk in oral cancer,” says Dr. Mark Hughes at the Harley Street Dental Studio.
Ones containing chlorhexidine can stain teeth, he says.
“It’s an antiseptic found in Corsodyl, and should only be used if your dentist instructs you to.”
TRY: One containing fluoride.
E. CHEW GUM
Some US pastes contain xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener. It can reduce decay by binding to bacteria, weakening its bond to the teeth.
“Orbit Complete, a sugar-free gum, also contains xylitol,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling.
TRY: Spry Toothpaste with Xylitol, healthstore.uk.com
2. MAKE SURE THE TIME IS RIGHT
A. USE A STOPWATCH
We should brush for two minutes, twice a day, but a quarter of adults brush once a day or less.
“Studies show we do it for only 45 seconds,” says Dr. Mark Hughes. Yet two minutes of brushing will remove 25% more plaque.
B. BRUSH BEFORE BREAKFAST
“Brushing after breakfast is one of the biggest fallacies around,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye, and Dr. Dana York agrees.
“Brush as soon as you wake up then you don’t have any bacteria in your mouth when eating,” he says.
“As soon as the bacteria has something on which to feast, you are more likely to develop tooth decay,” Dr. Uchenna Okoye adds.
“Any acidity in food softens enamel, and brushing teeth after may damage teeth.”
C. GO ELECTRIC
“I’d love to say otherwise but it is worth investing when it comes to brushes,” says Dr. Mark Hughes.
“A £10 [$15] toothbrush that vibrates will be more effective at plaque removal than manual brushing.
“Expensive sonic toothbrushes, which can cost up to £250 [$400], are even better. They can create more than 30,000 strokes a minute. Electric ones operate between 2,500 and 7,500 vibrations a minute. Sonic vibrations also clean under the gum.”
D. BE GENTLE
“Never use a hard brush. Plaque is quite soft and can be dislodged with gentle movements,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye.
“Opt for a medium firmness with a rounded filament,” says Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation.
E. BRUSH UP ON YOUR TECHNIQUE
Studies suggest that 80% of adults don’t brush their teeth correctly – poor technique can damage gums.
“I regularly have to correct my patients,” says Dr. Mark Hughes. Here is his quick guide…
Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush.
– Start at the back of the upper teeth. With the brush head at an angle of 45 degrees so the bristles face up, use gentle rotating motions. Do not saw back and forth.
– Brush along the gum line.
– Do the same with the bottom teeth and on the inside. Afterwards, don’t rinse – residual toothpaste on the tooth surface makes it more resistant to decay.
– If using an electric brush, do not rotate it but instead steadily move it along the gum line.
3. CUT DOWN ON SUGAR AND WINE
A. BLEEDING GUMS CAN BE A GOOD SIGN
If you don’t floss, you are leaving 40% of the tooth surface untouched. “Flossing removes plaque and debris,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye.
“It also helps prevent and treat bad breath. Just smell the floss after it has been used. I recommend a waxed tape rather than floss as it has a wider surface area.”
“Use an interdental brush for bigger gaps,” says Dr. Nicola Owen, of the Dental Phobia Clinic, Manchester.
“If your gums bleed it’s a good sign as you’re reaching areas where there is a build-up of plaque. It should stop after a few days as plaque is cleared.
“If it doesn’t, see your dentist as you may have a deeper problem.”
Dr. Federico Tinti, periodontist at London Smiling, adds: “Water-picks – also known as hydro-flossers – which emit a jet of water to remove trapped debris, are not as effective as old-fashioned floss.”
B. LEARN TO RELAX
“Tooth grinding – bruxism – is common,” says Dr. Asif Chatoo.
“It causes cracking and chipping of teeth and receding gums,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye. Headaches are another side-effect.
Dr. Asif Chatoo recommends a tooth shield. “It’s a smaller version of the ones boxers wear to stop teeth grinding. Try to get a custom-made one as they are more comfortable.”
C. HIDDEN SUGAR
Sweets and sugary drinks cause tooth decay, but Dr. Simon Khoury says we also need to be aware of sugar in foods such as tomato ketchup and baked beans. Meanwhile, wine is acidic and will gradually erode the teeth. The key is not the quantity of sugar you eat but how often.
“It’s a great reason to avoid snacking,” says Dr. Uchenna Okoye.
“It takes an hour for mouth pH to rebalance after eating.”
4. BRACE YOURSELF…
A. STRAIGHT TEETH LAST LONGER
Braces are not just about vanity.
“Crooked teeth lead to more decay,” says Dr. Asif Chatoo.
“Straight teeth are easier to clean so you are less likely to get gum disease,” says Dr. Simon Khoury.
“Food can get into awkward places in crooked teeth, meaning that bacteria collects.”
B. FILLINGS: WHITE OR SILVER?
There have been concerns about the health risks of silver amalgam fillings, which contain mercury.
Dr. Stuart Johnston, of the British Dental Association, says: “Amalgam fillings were banned in some European countries but this was because of the environmental impact of mercury waste being washed down the plughole.
“It’s nothing to do with health. In my mind amalgam is safe and effective.”
White fillings are made of glass particles, synthetic resin and a setting ingredient and last five to eight years, compared with eight to 12 years with amalgam.
The laws changed last week. It is now illegal to whiten the teeth of those under 18 and single-session whitening treatments are banned. Beauticians are no longer allowed to carry out whitening.
D. FALSE ECONOMY OF VENEERS
Dr.Jeremy Hill, of The Centre of Dental Excellence, Essex, says veneers can damage the tooth as treatment involves drilling on to the surface.
“One in ten people with veneers needs a root filling because the process irritates the nerve and affects the tooth.”