National Smile Month is the largest and longest-running campaign to promote good oral health. Together, with thousands of individuals and organisations, it highlights three key messages, all of which go a long way in helping us develop and maintain a healthy mouth. They are:
- Brush your teeth last thing at night and on at least one other occasion with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
- Visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.
Ultimately, the aim is to help us achieve good physical and mental well-being by improving our oral health.
How small changes in diet can help:
- if you have a sweet tooth try to choose sugar free sweets and drinks which contain xylitol as it can actively contribute to your oral health.
- Chew sugar-free gum after eating or drinking, especially sugary foods, to help protect your teeth and gums in between meals.
- Wait an hour after eating or drinking anything before brushing as then enamel will be softened and you could be brushing away tiny particles.
- A varied diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease.
- Finishing a meal with a cube of cheese is a great, and tasty, way to reduce the effect of acids from the foods damaging your teeth
- Avoid snacking and try to only have sugary foods and drinks at mealtimes, reducing the time your teeth come under attack.
- Children up to the age of three should use a smear of toothpaste containing a fluoride level of 1000ppm. After three they should be using a toothpaste that contains 1350pp – 1500ppm.
- Introduce your child to the dentist as early as possible when their first teeth start to appear to get them use to the smells, sights and sounds.
- Use a timer to ensure children are brushing ideally for up to 2 minutes and supervise their brushing until they are about 7 years’ old.
- Reward charts can be helpful to improve children’s brushing habits and get them to be more involved in taking care of their teeth.
Taking your child to the dentist
NHS dental care for children is free. Take your child to the dentist when their first milk teeth appear. This is so they become familiar with the environment and get to know the dentist. The dentist can help prevent decay and identify any oral health problems at an early stage. Just opening up the child’s mouth for the dentist to take a look at is useful practise for the future. When you visit the dentist, be positive about it and make the trip fun. This will stop your child worrying about future visits. Take your child for regular dental check-ups as advised by the dentist.
Fluoride varnish and fissure sealants
- Fissure sealants can be done once your child’s permanent back teeth have started to come through (usually at the age of about six or seven) to protect them from decay. This is where the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are covered with a special thin plastic coating to keep germs and food particles out of the grooves. The sealant can last for as long as 5 to 10 years.
- Fluoride varnish can be applied to both baby teeth and adult teeth. It involves painting a varnish that contains high levels of fluoride on to the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.
- From the age of three, children should be offered fluoride varnish application at least twice a year. Younger children may also be offered this treatment if your dentist thinks they need.
Reducing the risk of cancer and dementia
- By keeping our teeth and gums healthy we are more likely to reduce our risk of certain cancers, particularly in women, as well as some forms of dementia.
- New research, which examined data from 65,000 post-menopausal women between the ages of 54 and 86, found those with a history of gum disease were 14% more likely to develop cancer. Of these, one in three developed breast cancer while there was also a highly-increased risk of lung cancer, oesophageal, gall bladder and skin cancers.
- Those who have healthy gums are also 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who have suffered from gum disease over a long period of time.
Having a healthy baby
Pregnant women with healthy gums may be around three times less likely to have a baby that is premature, reducing the risk of having a low birth weight. Research says there is a one-in-four chance that a pregnant woman with gum disease could give birth before 35 weeks. This is because gum disease raises the levels of the chemicals that bring on labour.
Maintaining our appearance
- Keeping our teeth clean and healthy can help us steer clear of bad breath (halitosis). Bad breath is very common and is often caused by a buildup of plaque and is a symptom of gum disease and tooth decay, as well as being embarrassing and undesirable.
- Another very common condition that can affect our appearance is tooth staining. Tooth staining is natural and comes with the ‘wear and tear’ usually associated with smoking, or drinking lots of tea, coffee or red wine.
- Stained teeth are not usually harmful and tends to have little impact on the health of our teeth. Although having stained teeth can make us feel a little self-conscious.
- In most cases we should be able to prevent surface staining with regular cleaning, while more stubborn stains may need to be tackled by a dental professional.