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Women2Day - Health: Work on your smile

In the run-up to National Smile Month (May 16 - June 16), we speak to dental experts about how people can maintain good dental health and avoid teeth problems that could cost them a fortune.

Your smile is one of the first things people notice, so it's vital to keep it looking bright and healthy.

Yet new research reveals that Britons are nonchalant about the state of their teeth. Six out of 10 people have no concerns about their dental health, despite the fact that more than half of adults suffer from teeth and gum problems.

This lack of concern about dental health is why the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF) - who carried out the research with Listerine - are urging people to look after their teeth and keep them for life as part of this year's National Smile Month Teeth4Life campaign, which runs from May 16 to June 16.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF, says: "When the first ever Smile campaign was launched more than 35 years ago, one in three people over the age of 16 had no teeth at all.

"Fortunately, these days the situation is a much happier one. Most of us expect to keep our teeth for life and indeed do so.

"National Smile Month is all about educating people on how to make the best of their smile."

However, while the oral health situation is indeed happier and gives us all more to smile about, just 12 years ago as many as 13% of UK adults had lost all their natural teeth.

With 28% of today's UK population wearing dentures, the BDHF believes people should pay more attention to their oral hygiene than they currently do.

The campaign is encouraging Brits to:

- Brush teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.

- Visit the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

- Cut down on how often you have sugary snacks or drinks.

The BDHF has found that those people who believe they're brushing their teeth for the recommended two minutes are actually brushing for only 56 seconds, and as many as 13% of people brush once a day or less.

In addition, a third have never flossed their teeth, and more than seven in 10 eat sugary foods at least once day.

Such people may need to change their habits, and see a dentist regularly.

According to the NHS, people that have never had gum disease and have good oral health may only need a dental check-up once a year, or possibly every two years. But those with a history of oral disease need more frequent visits, perhaps as often as every three months.

However, as many as four in 10 people (43%) admit to putting off visiting their dentist due to the expense.

Charges vary widely across the country, and are obviously much cheaper for those lucky enough to find an NHS dentist.

But any cost should be weighed against the fact that dental health problems have been linked to more serious general health problems.

Carter says: "New scientific evidence of systemic links between oral health and overall body health continues to mount. Gum disease has been linked to diabetes, strokes and pregnancy problems as well as heart disease, so it's vital to look after oral hygiene.

"Almost all of us suffer from gum disease at some point in our lives, but it's easy to control it and prevent serious risks."

Dentist Eddie Coyle, clinical director of Oasis Dental Care, which has 182 dental practices in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, says people need a good partnership both with their dentist and their toothbrush to maintain good oral health.

"Having a good relationship with your toothbrush tends to be a reasonable starting point.

"There also needs to be a good partnership between the patient and the dental team - it lets the patient understand what's wrong, where their mouth's at and what the treatment options are."

He says that six-monthly dental check-ups are "a myth from times gone by", when in fact check-ups should be based on individual need.

Parents are advised to take children to the dentist as early as possible, not necessarily to have a dental examination but so they can see what the surgery's like and parents can get advice about diet and toothbrushing for them.

As for toothbrushing, he advises people to aim for at least two minutes, and to choose the brush that's right for them with the help of their dental team.

"Many people regard electric toothbrushes as some sort of magic wand. But you still have to put it on the right surface at the right angle and with the right pressure to do the right job.

"So there are many individuals who find a good manual technique just as effective."

Another important way of looking after your teeth is looking after what goes in your mouth.

"It's not how much sweet stuff you have, it's how often you have it," says Coyle.

If you have a "sweet episode", the mouth takes around an hour to recover from the resulting higher acidity levels, which can cause dental decay.

So it's best to eat sweet things around mealtimes, if possible, because they'll probably already include a "sweet episode".

Coyle, 41, says it's also best to try to limit foods which have sugars or hidden sugars in them, such as fizzy drinks or tomato sauce, and be careful with naturally occurring sugars found in things like raisins or fruit juices.

"This is where dentistry versus medical advice will sometimes come into conflict, because what's necessarily good for your teeth isn't always necessarily good for that individual patient.

"So if you're having healthier snacks, just be careful - watch out for anything to excess, it could be a problem."

Coyle also points out that people should always remember that cleaning between the teeth is as important as cleaning the teeth themselves.

"Plaque will gather in those areas and have an impact on tooth and gum health. You need to use a physical action to move the plaque away," he warns.

Use dental floss, tape or many other similar products to clean between the teeth every day.

Coyle admits that one of the things dentists have to live with is that some people don't like to see them, and others are positively terrified.

"It may be because they've been told a certain procedure's horrible, and for some it can be something as simple as they don't like the smell of the surgery or injections, or it may be that an experience they've had - very commonly as a young child - has caused them to have an irrational fear of dentistry."

But they need to get over their fear - of either seeing the dentist or spending the money - both to avoid potential pain and prevent future problems with both oral and general health.

"Most dental disease tends to be silent, so if you need a filling you probably won't get any symptoms from that until it's progressed quite far.

"It's important to have a professional team to make sure things aren't progressing, and establish a long-term plan to make sure there's a prevention aspect."

He adds: "It's really just about being aware of diet, making sure you have a good brushing technique, attending to regular dental care and making sure the area between the teeth's nice and clean."

 

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