You don't expect to lose an arm or a leg when you get older, so why would you expect to lose your teeth? Keeping your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime is the focus of this year's Dental Health Week in Australia.
Dental Health Week is organised by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) during the first week of every August and is dedicated to highlighting the importance of oral health care for all ages. You can lower your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease and improve your chance of keeping your smile for life by practising the ADA's four key messages:
- Brush your teeth twice a day 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, consuming less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day
- Regularly visit the dentist for check-ups and preventive treatment
Why are healthy teeth important?
Cleaning your teeth isn't only important for preventing stains and bad breath, though those are good reasons too. Regular brushing and flossing and a healthy diet also help to reduce the spread of plaque, a layer of bacteria that can build upon the teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease.
The bacteria in plaque feed on sugar and carbs in food and drink and release acids that weaken and erode tooth enamel. Over time, this can wear down teeth, create cavities or expose the sensitive pulp at the centre of the tooth.
Regular toothbrushing helps to keep plaque levels low, but only when it's done correctly so you don't miss any spots. If your dentist thinks you or someone in your family need to improve your toothbrushing routine, following this advice from the Australian Dental Association could help.
Brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes, twice a day
Many people want to get toothbrushing out of the way as quickly as possible, but that means you're not giving your teeth the attention they deserve. Cleaning each tooth in turn – front, back and chewing surface – should take around 2 minutes in total. If you need help judging the time, a timer, toothbrushing smartphone app or playing a song could help.
You should ideally brush in the morning before breakfast and in the evening before going to bed, but your dentist may recommend other times. Avoid brushing too soon after meals, as leftover acids from food and drink could damage your teeth.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head
The type of toothbrush you use can also make a difference, with soft bristles being recommended for most people. Hard bristles may strip away the enamel over time, leaving your teeth more vulnerable to plaque. A small toothbrush head makes it easier to move the toothbrush all around your mouth.
Some people find an electric toothbrush easier to use than a manual toothbrush. Your dentist might recommend an electric brush if you or your children find it hard to clean your teeth properly with a standard toothbrush.
Choose a toothpaste containing fluoride
Fluoride is the key ingredient in toothpaste that helps to reduce plaque. Toothpastes that don't contain fluoride are less effective at preventing tooth decay.
Children's dentists recommend that kids use low-fluoride toothpaste until the age of about 6. This is to lower their risk of fluorosis, a cosmetic condition that can discolour teeth if too much toothpaste is swallowed.
Don't press too hard
As well as choosing a soft toothbrush, you should also brush gently to avoid causing damage. Brushing fast and vigorously won't remove more plaque, but it can strip enamel from your teeth or irritate your gums. Use gentle up and down motions rather than brushing from side to side.
Replace your toothbrush every 3 months
Even when you brush gently, your toothbrush will get worn down the more you use it and needs to be replaced regularly. Most people should replace their toothbrush every 3 months or as soon as you notice the bristles fraying.
If you have an electric toothbrush, replace the head every 3 months and buy new sets of toothbrush heads when needed.
Some people consider flossing optional, but if you don't floss, much of the surface area of your teeth will never be cleaned. This can mean that leftover food and plaque get trapped in these spaces where your toothbrush can't reach. Regular flossing helps to reduce tooth decay and gum disease, as well as bad breath.
Clean between your teeth using floss or interdental brushes
To floss your teeth, wind about 45cm of floss around your middle fingers and hold it between your thumbs and index fingers. Gently clean up and down the sides of each tooth, tucking it slightly inside the gum.
If you don't like the feel of floss, your dentist can discuss alternatives such as interdental brushes or a water flosser. Don't use hard objects such as toothpicks to clean between your teeth, as these can cause damage.
Floss at least once per day
While brushing should be done twice a day, flossing is only necessary once daily for most people. Dentists recommend flossing for at least 2 minutes or as long as it takes to clean your teeth thoroughly, preferably in the morning before brushing your teeth.
Flossing is important for children too. You should start flossing as soon as their teeth start to touch side by side.
Teeth-friendly food and drink
Good brushing and flossing can only do so much if your diet encourages tooth decay. Healthy eating means recognising the food and drink that's good for your teeth as well as what to avoid.
Limit your added sugar intake
Sugar is the single largest cause of tooth decay. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults should consume no more than 24g or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day. According to the ADA, almost half of Australians (47%) exceed this recommendation.
A little sugar is important for energy and should ideally come from whole fruits. You can reduce unhealthy and excess sugars in your diet by avoiding confectionery, cakes and biscuits, as well as soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices.
View the Nutrition Information Panel on food and drink labels
If you want to control your sugar intake, comparing the nutrition labels of products in the supermarket or online stores can help – but you need to know what you're looking for.
Added sugar may be listed under a number of different names, including fructose, glucose, maltose, sucrose, corn syrup and many more. The higher these ingredients are listed, the greater its presence in the product. Find out more about hidden sugars.
Choose tooth-friendly snacks
Snacks don't have to be bad for your teeth. Some healthy sugar swaps to try include:
- Fruit instead of biscuits and cakes
- Cream cheese rather than honey or jam
- Nuts or vegetable chips instead of potato chips
Even when you're having healthy snacks, these are best enjoyed around mealtimes to avoid exposing your teeth to acids throughout the day.
Choose tap water as your drink of choice
Sugary drinks can be even worse for your teeth than sugary snacks, with some 375ml cans of soft drinks containing as much as 9 teaspoons of sugar – well above the daily recommendation. What's more, many of these drinks are acidic, which contributes to tooth decay and erosion.
If you're looking for a healthy substitute, tap water is the best choice. It helps to rinse away leftover food, prevents dry mouth and – if you live in a fluoridated area – contains a safe level of fluoride to help protect your teeth against plaque.
Visiting a dentist
Even if you think you're taking great care of your teeth, regular visits to a dental clinic help to keep your teeth and gums healthy by catching any problems before they cause serious damage.
Unfortunately, many Australians don't make the time in their schedules to see a dentist, with almost three quarters of adults (73%) saying they don't attend regular check-ups, according to the ADA.
Visit at least once per year
For most people, visiting the dentist at least once a year improves the chance of your dentist spotting and treating problems before they develop, but more frequent visits lower your oral health risks further. Your dentist will recommend how often you should visit based on your individual needs, which may change over time.
Comprehensive check-up and clean
As well as having your teeth and gums checked for signs of problems, your dental visit should also involve an appointment with a hygienist. They can clean and scale your teeth to remove any plaque that wasn't removed by brushing and flossing, apply fluoride for added protection for your teeth and give you advice about ways to improve your daily oral care.
Visit a dentist on the Gold Coast
If it's time for your check-up, or you want to talk to a Gold Coast dentist for advice or to discuss treatments, call our friendly team at Robina Town Dental on 07 5575 9100 or book an appointment at our clinic in Robina Town Shopping Centre.
Australian Dental Association. Dental Health Week 2021 [Online] 2021 [Accessed July 2021] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Health-Week/Home
Healthdirect. How to cut down on sugar [Online] 2020 [Accessed July 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cutting-down-on-sugars
Healthdirect. Teeth cleaning [Online] 2020 [Accessed July 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-cleaning