Pearly whites, chompers, ivories, choppers or gnashers, whatever you call your teeth, it’s imperative you look after them. We don’t just mean brushing; but checking what we should be eating (and not eating) and keeping an eye on the general state of our gums. Here’s your guide to looking after your teeth.
As kids you were probably dragged to the dentist periodically and made to drink strange pink water, but it’s easy to let looking after your teeth fall by the wayside as busy lives take over. Teeth and gum health are important in so many ways. It’s not just preventing tooth decay and gum disease (which is hugely important), but our oral health plays a much bigger part in our lives. Research has shown that the number of teeth we have in later life is actually linked to how long we’ll live!
For women it’s particularly important; breast cancer risk is three times higher for women with gum disease. And because women’s hormones fluctuate wildly at different stages in their lives, it can have an effect on our oral health.
Looking after your teeth: Gum Disease
Gum disease is an infection that builds up in the gum tissue that supports your teeth. It’s caused by a build-up of plaque on your teeth that eventually, without regular brushing and flossing, leads to inflammation. Over time, this inflammation weakens the bone that supports your teeth and teeth become wobbly or fall out. Studies show that the inflammation in your gums can kick-start inflammation elsewhere in your body and can lead to much more serious diseases.
Most adults in the UK will experience a mild form of gum disease called gingivitis, at some point. It’s characterised by swollen, puffy or dark red gums and your teeth may bleed when you brush them. You may also have tender gums and bad breath. Luckily, it’s easy to treat with brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day (particularly after meals) and flossing every day to remove the plaque build-up and bits of food stuck between your teeth.
If gingivitis isn’t treated it can become periodontitis, which is all the symptoms of gingivitis, plus loose or loss of teeth, receding gums, gaps forming between teeth and pain when you chew. It’s important to see a dentist if you experience any of these symptoms so they can work out a treatment plan with you.
The best way to look after your teeth
Good old brushing with either an electric or manual toothbrush is still the best advice from dentists worldwide. Brushing twice a day is important as is brushing for two minutes. This is because what you are doing is essentially stirring up all the bacteria twice a day which stops it from becoming settled and turning into inflammation. Use an app like Brush DJ which plays your favourite tunes for two minutes for you to brush your teeth too. Whilst we realise you’re not eight years old, we also realise it might have been a while since you were reminded how to brush your teeth….
- Change your toothbrush every three months. A soft-bristled brush is actually better at removing those hard to reach bits of plaque or food.
- Don’t be too rough! Cleaning your teeth shouldn’t feel like you’re using steel wool on pots and pans. Massage your teeth to loosen the plaque rather than scrubbing them raw.
- Floss! And we don’t mean the dance. Flossing helps to remove those bits of food and plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach. This is particularly important if you’re teeth aren’t straight and there are more nooks and crannies for food to get stuck in.
- Keep to the 2-minute rule. Play tunes if it helps or have a timer in your bathroom.
- Don’t forget to clean the inside of your teeth (the bits that you can’t see).
- If you’ve eaten something acidic, wait 15-20 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth. This is because the citric acid in foods like oranges, grapefruits and lemons can weaken your teeth and brushing them straight after is too abrasive.
- Don’t forget to clean your tongue. Brush from the back to the front and spit out the saliva.
Best foods for your teeth
You’ve probably got a good idea about the kind of foods our teeth don’t like (sugar, sugar, sugar!!) but what about foods that actually help and strengthen our teeth?
Cheese is high in calcium which helps to make teeth (and bones) stronger. It also contains a protein that strengthens tooth enamel and increases your mouth’s saliva production, which helps to wash away sugar and bacteria. If you’re between meals and need a tooth-friendly snack, try eating some cheese – harder cheeses like cheddar work best.
An apple a day… Apples actually have high levels of acidity which is harmful to tooth enamel, but apples produce saliva which again, help to rinse away the bacteria and food. Keep the apple skin on, as the fibrous texture stimulates the gums and removes food from hard to reach parts of your mouth.
Carrots and celery are particularly good as they increase saliva production. They contain Vitamin C which helps protect your gums. Any fruit or vegetable with a crunchy texture can help to move the bacteria around your mouth and stop it from becoming bedded in. Just remember to floss afterwards to remove the bits that get stuck in your teeth.
Fish indirectly helps your teeth, so bear with us on this one. Our teeth and gums need calcium to keep them strong and protect them from disease, but our bodies can’t absorb calcium without the right amounts of vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are packed with vitamin D (and are delicious.)
Yep, we’re telling the truth – chocolate is good for our teeth! Cocoa beans contain polyphenols, tannins and flavonoids which not only stop the bacteria from sticking to your teeth, but limit it turning into acids. The acids eat away at your tooth enamel causing holes in your teeth which become cavities and tooth pain. Dark chocolate is less processed than milk and white chocolate so it’s closer to a cocoa bean. Check the cocoa content on your packet and make sure what you’re buying has at least 70% cocoa in it.
Green and black tea
Both green and black teas contain polyphenols which help to supress all that harmful bacteria in your mouth. Who knew, a cup of tea and a bar of dark chocolate could be so good for you!
And the worst foods for your teeth….
It’s not actually the sugar itself that damages your teeth, but the ‘perfect storm’ that happens in your mouth after you’ve eaten an ice cream, for example. The bacteria in your mouth loves sugar and turns it into acids which then destroy your tooth enamel. Limiting sugar is therefore the key to healthy teeth, but it’s not as easy as it seems. There are sugars in so many of the foods we eat, it’s hard to keep track of what is good or bad for our teeth.
Foods with hidden sugar in them:
Check your condiments
ketchup, sauces, chutneys and salad dressings can all be high in sugar, which are often disguised with stronger tastes. Check the labels of what you have in your fridge to see the sugar content. Adults should have no more than 30g of sugar per day, which roughly equates to seven sugar lumps. Switch to brands which have no or low sugar alternatives.
marketed as a healthy breakfast choice (and used on adverts for healthy lifestyles and gyms etc) is often very high in sugar or honey. Check for low-sugar versions of your favourite granola, or better still make your own.
you’d be forgiven for thinking vegetables coming out of a tin have nothing added, but you’d be surprised at how many tins of tomatoes, chickpeas, beans and sweetcorn for example, all have added sugar. This is partly to prolong the shelf life of tinned products but worth looking out for.
Parents often make the mistake of giving their children dried fruit such as apricots or sultanas, as a healthy snack between meals. These fruits are actually very high in sugar; this is because when fruit is dried the sugar becomes concentrated. Dried fruit is also sticky so gets lodged into the nooks and crannies of your teeth more easily. Snacking on carrot sticks or cheese cubes is much better for our teeth.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to cut these foods out completely. Drink water after eating sugary foods to wash away the bits of foods stuck in your mouth. Try chewing sugarless gum after eating as it increases the amount of saliva in your mouth, which in turn reduces plaque forming on your teeth.
Read our featuring on healthy foods to combat those sugar cravings, if you find it hard to cut down on sugar.
Women, hormones your teeth and oral health
Hormone levels in women will fluctuate at different points in our cycles, and at different stages of our lives. This is why when you are menstruating, during pregnancy or going through menopause, you may experience issues with your teeth. Higher levels of progesterone can cause your gums to swell and bleed when you brush your teeth. Many women notice this happening when they have their periods.
Pregnancy and your teeth
Pregnancy supresses your body’s immune system and this has an effect on your teeth and gum health. Research has found there’s a link between gum disease in pregnant women and premature or low-birth weight babies. The good news is that dental treatment is free in the UK to all pregnant women so make sure you book yourself in to see your dentist.
As Oestrogen levels decrease during menopause, many women experience a drier mouth, which is turn can create more mouth bacteria. When your mouth is dry, the bacteria can grow and cause problems for your teeth.
Visit your dentist at least once a year and see a dental hygienist every six months. Keep brushing twice a day and floss before you brush. Finally, enjoy a green tea and some dark chocolate knowing it’s all benefitting those pearly whites.
To find a dentist in your area visit the NHS link and search with your postcode.