To mark World Oral Health Day, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) have launched Australia’s first comprehensive Oral Health Tracker report, revealing a series of damning statistics about the state of the population’s teeth.
The research found 90 per cent of adults have some form of tooth decay, and risky alcohol consumption and smoking habits are contributing to poor oral health.
Too many children are also ending up in hospital with preventable dental problems, with five to nine year olds having the highest rates of admissions.
The Oral Health Tracker also found about one-quarter of teens had not had a dental check-up in 12 months.
Adults aged 18 to 35 and women were more likely to feature in the 51 per cent of adults who brush their teeth twice a day, with brushing habits dropping off as people aged.
Diet and Nutrition
Everything you eat and drink can have a major effect on the health of your teeth and gums, particularly whether you develop tooth decay, a diet related disease which is caused when the sugars in the food and drinks you eat are taken up by bacteria; these in turn produce the acids that can attack the outer layer of tooth enamel.
To ensure that your diet doesn’t negatively affect your teeth, there’s a few key things to keep in mind:
Drink lots of water
It’s calorie free, there are no ingredient labels to stress over, and it’s almost free! Even better, tap water in most areas of Australia contains fluoride, one of the easiest and most beneficial ways to help prevent tooth decay. If you choose water over anything else, and regularly sip it throughout the day, you’re going a long way to making real difference to the health of your teeth.
Limit snacking between meals
A key component in helping to prevent decay is saliva which helps your teeth recover from these attacks by neutralising the acids. Its good work, however, can be undone if you snack frequently between meals, which means your teeth don’t get a break from the acid attacks that occur when you eat. Also, limit sugary treats to meal times, rather than between meals.
Watch what you eat
It is not just the obvious sweet foods and drinks such as lollies and soft drinks that can cause decay. Frequent snacking on foods with hidden sugars like biscuits, crackers, cereals, chips and even dried fruit (these foods break down into sugars in the mouth) can cause acid attacks on your tooth enamel.
Chewing sugar-free gum (and that’s the crucial qualifier, it must be sugar-free!) may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about good dietary habits that benefit your teeth. But studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating can prompt your mouth to produce more saliva, which helps neutralise decay-causing acid attacks.
If you’re relying solely on brushing to keep your teeth clean, you’re missing nearly half the surface area of your teeth which, not surprisingly, lies between them. For that reason alone, flossing should be an essential part of your oral care routine and never an optional extra.
By using floss to remove the plaque from between your teeth, you’re helping to prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and halitosis (otherwise known as “bad breath”), a considerable amount of upside for just a couple of minutes effort each day.
A part of your routine
It’s always best to floss when you’re not in a rush or when you’re too tired to do it well. If you find you’re exhausted at the end of the day, then it’s a good idea to floss first thing in the morning or after lunch. Alternatively, if you like to go to bed with a clean mouth then floss before your nightly brush. If you have kids, they should begin flossing, with your help up until about age 8, as soon as they have two teeth in contact.
How to floss
Your dentist is the most qualified person to instruct you on flossing correctly but there are some basic tips you can follow:
Tip 1. Wind approximately 45 cm of floss around your middle fingers and grip it tightly between your thumbs and index fingers.
Tip 2. Keeping the thumb and forefingers close together, gently guide the floss between the teeth, taking care not to cut or damage your gums with abrupt movement. You should use a side-to-side motion to ensure the sides of both teeth are cleaned equally.
Tip 3. To clean the “neck” of the tooth, which is the point where it meets the gums, curl the floss and insert it gently under the gum.
If sticking your fingers into your mouth with a cord of thin filaments strung between them isn’t your idea of fun, then consider using either a less invasive floss threader (a nylon loop through which you thread the floss) or floss pick (the floss is held taut between two prongs on a handle) to do the job.
And finally, your dentist might also recommend using other items such as bottle brush-shaped interdental cleaners, if you have large gaps between your teeth, or interdental tips (flexible rubber tips) and irrigators (electrically-powered water-pumping devices) to compliment your flossing regimen.
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give much thought to how you brush your teeth, beyond squirting on some toothpaste and scrubbing back and forth. But as your dentist will tell you, how you brush your teeth matters a great deal, with how often you brush, how long you brush, the kind of technique and the toothbrush you use are all major influences on the effectiveness of your brushing.
To gain the maximum benefit from brushing, you should brush for at least two minutes morning and night, using a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head and a flexible neck. The advantage of these toothbrushes is that they remove the plaque and debris from your teeth without damaging your teeth and gums.
It’s all in the technique
You should clean your teeth systematically, starting at the back of your mouth with the toothbrush bristle at the gum line on a 45° angle, brushing gently in a circular motion. If you scrub too hard from side to side, you can run the risk of causing your gums to recede, as well as damaging the tooth enamel. You should take care to brush carefully along the inner, outer and chewing surfaces, making sure you tip the toothbrush so you can reach the inner front areas of the teeth, which are often missed.
And yes, while it may seem strange at first to brush your tongue, doing so actually reduces the bacteria in your mouth and helps your breath stay fresh. All you need to do is push the bristles on the tongue and scrape gently forward.
When you have finished brushing, try to spit out the toothpaste and don’t rinse with water. Leaving some toothpaste on your teeth is a really great way to give your teeth some extra ongoing protection.
Tools of the trade
If limited dexterity is an issue, you might consider using a powered toothbrush. They can be programmed to run for two minutes, making keeping to the correct length of brushing time easy. If you’re not sure which type of brush will work for you or your family, check with your dentist.
Tempting as it is to think that pressing harder on your teeth equals a better clean, the fact is that too much pressure can damage your gums and tooth enamel. If the bristles are wearing out on your toothbrushes well before the three-month mark, you’re pressing too hard and you should ask your dentist to show you a less damaging technique. It’s also a good idea to replace your brush, whether manual or powered, when either the bristles start to spread apart, or every three months, whichever comes first.