Dental Care: Smile Like You Mean It

A guide for preserving the perfect smile, with optimal oral health tips and advice

The 15th May marked the beginning of this year’s National Smile Month; the largest and longest running campaign in the UK promoting healthy oral hygiene and care. Thousands of organisations are banding together to promote three key messages to the public:

  • To brush teeth properly twice a day with a good quality fluoride toothpaste.
  • Cut down on sugary drinks and snacks, which lead to damaging tooth decay.
  • Visit a certified dentist for regular checkups and maintenance.

Organised by the Oral Health Foundation—whose aim is to improve smiles and oral health across the country—the campaign will give pharmacies, schools, colleges and communities a platform from which to motivate and educate people on the subject. So what are the best ways to maintain a beautiful smile?

Remove staining

Staining can be triggered by a number of things; usually when certain foods or liquids come into contact with the tooth and cause it to become discoloured. There are three types of staining, each requires a different removal approach: intrinsic stains, extrinsic stains and age-related stains.

Intrinsic stains refer to the staining of your dentin, the soft tissue just below the enamel. These deeper stains cannot be removed with a toothpaste, but require professional treatment with active ingredients to bleach the tooth.

Extrinsic stains refer to the staining of the enamel, the hard outer surface of the tooth. Enamel comes into contact with everything we eat and drink and over time it absorbs pigments left over by them. Smoking, curry, berries, red wine, coffee and sugary carbonated drinks are all known culprits for teeth staining. Extrinsic stains can be tackled with whitening toothpastes or professional dental cleaning.

Age-related stains occur when the tooth enamel starts to thin over time, whilst the dentin naturally starts to darken. This is a natural part of aging and requires a deeper penetrating treatment. Your dentist may recommend an at-home bleaching kit or professional whitening. Another option is to choose restorations like bonding or crowns, which will fully conceal discolouration.

Keep gums healthy

According to NHS choices, ‘Most adults in the UK have gum disease to some degree and most people experience it at least once’. Gum disease is an inflammatory disease that occurs when excessive plaque causes bacteria to form below the gum line and around the root, releasing toxins that cause the gums to eventually move away from the teeth.

You should make an appointment with your dentist if your gums are swollen, overly sensitive, painful or bleed excessively when you brush—these are all major signs of gum disease. Barry Cockcroft, former chief dental officer for England, states that: ‘More people lose their teeth now as a result of gum disease compared with tooth decay,’ so spotting these symptoms early could save the loss of a tooth.

The most effective way to prevent plaque build-up is to brush and floss regularly. Most dentists agree that brushing for between two to three minutes is optimal for a fresh and clean mouth. Floss, also known as an interdental cleaner, is especially vital for preventing cavities; it captures hard to reach places that brushing misses. Another surprising aid for preventing plaque is chewing sugar-free gum; it removes excess acid left by food, which wears away at your natural enamel.

Prevent sensitivity

Dentin hypersensitivity may not affect the visual appearance of your smile, but it can certainly lower your self-esteem and confidence, along with your overall quality of life. The thinning of the tooth’s protective enamel and the receding of the gums are the main causes for sensitivity. This leaves the roots exposed and therefore more prone to sharp pain when in contact with hot, cold or acidic foods and beverages. ‘You can buy toothpastes that are specially formulated to reduce sensitivity or your dentist can apply a varnish that can reduce the sensitivity’, Barry Cockcroft recommends.

As for preventing dentin hypersensitivity, reducing the acid within your diet is known to be a fast and effective method. Natural acids found in fruits, shellfish and certain dairy products can be causing you unwanted pain without you knowing. Another option is to try swapping your toothbrush for a softer bristle; sometimes hard brushes can be overly abrasive and may aggravate sensitive teeth. 

Take note of National Smile Month’s key messages this year and see how it can affect your smile and oral health for the better.


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