Good dental care is always important, no matter what your age. We ask dental expert Dr Uchenna Okoye to provide her view on how to take care of your teeth at every stage in life.
Regularly cleaning your teeth is a vital part of dental care – something that can begin even before those first teeth come through.
Keeping your mouth and teeth in good shape means that you’re likely to keep your teeth for longer.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, also known as gingivitis, which is very common in the UK, and can cause bad breath and bleeding gums.
Looking after our teeth – whatever your age
According to research carried out by the British Dental Health Foundation for National Smile Month 2012, we still have some way to go when it comes to looking after our teeth.
About one quarter of all adults haven’t seen a dentist in the last two years. Three out of every ten adults have regular pain from their teeth, and a quarter of us don’t brush our teeth twice a day.
Those who only brush once a day are one third more likely to have tooth decay. It’s no surprise then that over four-fifths of us have at least one filling.
Perhaps most shocking is the fact that a third of all children have tooth decay when they start school.
Baby teeth – start brushing early
The message here is start brushing early. “Research has shown that children whose teeth are brushed before they are one year old are less likely to have decay later,” says Dr Uchenna Okoye, Clinical Director, London Smiling.
“It is best to clean your baby’s first teeth by wrapping a clean flannel around your finger, or buying finger brushes and rubbing the teeth and gums gently, to rub away plaque”.
Dr Okoye’s top tips for caring for your young child’s teeth include:
- Assist. Dentists have found that most children can’t clean their teeth adequately until they can write, so it’s best if you clean their teeth. Sit them on your lap and get them to open wide and tip their head back while you clean their teeth.
- Toothpaste. Don’t use adult toothpaste before the age of six, because it contains too much fluoride and so increases the risk of mottled teeth.
- Regular cleaning. Brush teeth twice a day, in the morning and before bed.
Teenagers can become very conscious about how they look, and this is the time when many start wearing braces. “Make sure they visit the dentist regularly, every six months,” says Dr Okoye. “Your dentist will chat through any concerns about your teenager needing braces.”
It’s not always easy to control what teens eat or drink, so Dr Okoye suggests encouraging them to keep up good oral hygiene, and if they drink fizzy drinks to do this through a straw to help protect their teeth.
Dr Okoye’s tips for teenagers and adults include:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day with an electric toothbrush, and changing your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to four months.
- Flossing. Flossing daily to remove food from between the teeth.
- Healthy eating. Eating a healthy diet and limiting between-meal snacks.
- Check-ups. Having regular dental check-ups and appointments with your hygienist.
Caring for older teeth
When you’re in your fifties and over, there are some areas of dental hygiene that need particular attention, says the British Dental Association (BDA).
Thorough brushing is still important (even if you have dentures). Food and drink that gets left behind could lead to gum irritation or bad breath.
The BDA recommends that older people:
- Choose a toothbrush with a small head, so that it can get into the small spaces around your teeth.
- Select toothpaste that contains fluoride at a concentration of at least 1,350ppm.
The BDA’s advice on keeping dentures clean is to hold them over a basin of water and brush them every day, using a soft to medium brush, and your usual toothpaste. You can use a special solution to soak your dentures in, but you’ll still need to brush them to get them really clean.
As we age, our teeth, especially if they have fillings, can become more vulnerable to cracks. If your tooth hurts or starts to twinge, see your dentist as soon as you can. If you leave it, the crack may get worse, or your tooth may become infected.
Find out more about the dental plans available to you and your family; or if you’re an employer you might be interested in our corporate dental insurance. If you have a specific question you want answered, why not ask one of our experts?