Dental care

Look after them properly and you should have strong, healthy teeth to keep you going well into old age. It’s important to have regular dental check-ups and these are free to everyone under the age of 18 (or under 19 and in full-time education) so make the most of them.

By the age of 14, you will probably have lost all of your milk teeth and have 28 permanent adult teeth. (At around age 20, four more wisdom teeth usually come through at the back of the mouth to complete an adult set of 32 teeth.) If your adult teeth are not positioned correctly, your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist who will advise you on the best course of action for you. You may have a brace or retainer fitted and sometimes teeth are removed to make sure the remaining teeth can move to fit well together. Find out more about orthodontics on the NHS website here.

Gone are the days when it is normal for elderly people to have false teeth; these days we know how to care for them to keep them strong and healthy:

  • Try to eat healthily and avoid eating lots of sugary, starchy foods (including fruit) and sugary drinks, particularly between meals. These increase your risk of tooth decay because they cause plaque to build up on your teeth. Plaque is made up of food debris, saliva and the bacteria naturally present in your mouth. It collects between your teeth and along the gum line – the acids produced by bacteria breaking down the food debris can weaken the hard enamel on your teeth and this can lead to cavities (holes) which will need filling.
  • Brush your teeth regularly – twice a day for two minutes. If plaque isn’t brushed away, it hardens into tartar which is hard to shift by brushing. It’s important to pay particular attention to your gum line – plaque and tartar will irritate your gums and can lead to gum disease (the early stage is called gingivitis). Use dental floss or an interdental brush to remove all the debris from between your teeth. If your gums bleed easily when you brush your teeth, it’s important to see a dentist for a check-up. After eating or drinking acidic food or drink – fruit, fruit juice or fizzy drink – wait an hour or so before cleaning your teeth. If you brush straight away, you will rub the acid into the enamel on your teeth, which is obviously not what you want! Use small circular movements and use a gentle pressure – you’re brushing, not scrubbing, your teeth. Remember to brush the inside, the outside and the chewing surfaces of your teeth.
  • Use a toothpaste containing fluoride (it should contain 1,350-1,500ppm fluoride) and a medium-soft toothbrush with a small head so you can brush in all the nooks and crannies. If you want to use mouthwash, don’t use it straight after brushing your teeth as it will wash away the concentrated fluoride left on your teeth from the toothpaste. Choose a different time, such as after lunch, and don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.
  • Have regular dental check-ups. These are free to under-18s and under-19s in full-time education. Most people think you need to have a check-up every six months but the time between check-ups can vary from three months to two years, depending on the health of your teeth and gums. Your dentist will advise you. Check-ups are important for making sure any dental problems are dealt with early and for keeping your mouth healthy.

Bad breath
You may be self-conscious about your breath after you’ve eaten something particularly strong-smelling, such as garlic or spicy foods, but it isn’t always easy to tell if your breath smells. Your friends might notice it but they may worry about telling you. An easy way to test whether you have bad breath is to lick the inside of your wrist with the back of your tongue. Wait a few seconds until the saliva dries, then smell your wrist. If it smells unpleasant, it is probable that your breath does too. Good oral hygiene usually prevents bad breath but sometimes there are underlying causes, such as illness. If you are worried, speak to your dentist about it. Smoking, crash-dieting and drinking alcohol can also cause bad breath which is another good reason to avoid all three.