Everyone knows that lax oral hygiene can lead to a wide number of problems, but sometimes we all need a gentle reminder of the risk we run by cutting corners. In this article we run you through some of the most common problems that can arise and how you can make sure to avoid them.

How to Look After Your Teeth

The key weapons in your oral hygiene arsenal are fluoride toothpaste and your toothbrush. Brushing regularly removes plaque which, as you’ll see down the article, is a key cause of many of the most common dental problems.

When it comes to brushing your teeth, the most important thing it to be as thorough as possible, getting to all the surfaces of your teeth and not neglecting to get at your gum line as well. The type of brush you use is not as important as how well you use it, and there’s not much evidence to suggest that electric brushes are significantly superior to their manual counterparts. The condition of your brush, however, is important and you should look to replace it as soon as the bristles start to show signs of wearing. Remember to brush twice a day and to take the time to do it properly (at least two to three minutes.) There’s not a science to how to brush your teeth properly, just follow the simple steps above.

After you’ve brushed you should follow up by cleaning between the teeth, for example flossing. This will help you clean areas that simply can’t be reached by a brush and are, therefore, more susceptible to plaque and tartar build ups. Mouthwash can also help to remove any remaining bacteria and some believe it is effective in preventing gum disease.

There are also many mouthwashes on the market which are popular, however the benefits will depend on the mouthwash used and the reasons for using them. Fluoride mouthwashes are beneficial for those who may have a higher decay rate and should be used at a different time to brushing, those who do use them should try to use an alcohol free mouthwash, particularly children. Most other mouthwashes should be used under the direction of their dental professional for the treatment of problems.  Generally most mouthwashes tend to only mask malodour and do not affect the underlying problems of gum disease and poor cleaning techniques.  Your Dentist or Dental Hygienist are the best people to ask if a mouthwash is right for you and the problems you are experiencing – they are certainly not a substitute for poor cleaning.

You need be aware that you won’t be able to keep your teeth completely clean through your own efforts, however disciplined you may be. It’s important you see a dentist/hygienist regularly for a thorough cleaning to keep your mouth in pristine condition. The average person should be looking at having a check-up every 6 months with their dentist and every 3-6 months with their hygienist.

Is a Bad Idea to Brush Straight After Eating?

Yes. You may have heard this and thought it sounded a bit like an old wife’s tale but it is indeed true that you shouldn’t brush your teeth immediately after you’ve finished eating.

The enamel on your teeth is weakened after you’ve eaten and by waiting before brushing you give your saliva a chance to work its restorative power. If you swoop in too soon you could end up scraping the enamel off your teeth, inadvertently causing self-inflicted erosion. For this reason, you should give it at least 20 minutes if not an hour before brushing.

The two best times to brush are as soon as you get up (before having your breakfast) and last thing before you hit the hay. Your saliva flow is reduced when you’re asleep, so if you leave sugar on your teeth overnight you’ll be even more susceptible to tooth decay than you are in the daytime.

Things to Avoid

It’s bad for you in a wide variety of ways, but alcoholic drinks are generally also pretty awful for your teeth, being, in the main, very sugary. This is especially true of the mixers that accompany most of our favourite spirits. As most of us have discovered the hard way, at one point or another, overdoing it can cause you to throw up. As explained later on, this will coat your teeth in harmful stomach acid and cause real damage.

Smoking, again, should be avoided for a huge number of reasons. The fact that it will stain your teeth yellow and increases the chance of gum disease and tooth loss pales in comparison to potentially fatal cancers it causes.

Finally watch out for sugars and acids in your food and drink. They need to be limited for dietary reasons anyway, but from a dental point of view the timing of your consumption is actually just as important as the amounts you have. Keep offending foods to meal times. The impact they have on your teeth is much more pronounced when you’re eating or drinking them at regular intervals rather than at select points in the day.

Common Dental Problems

Now, you know how to look after your teeth, let’s look at some of the problems that might arise if you fail to follow the steps outlined above.

Gum Disease

The damage caused by gum disease isn’t just limited to your gums; the bone structures that secure your teeth to your jaw will also be detrimentally affected. Fortunately, gum disease is, in its early stages at least, easy enough to take care off. The problems (such as bleeding and swelling of the gums) associated with the early onset of gum disease (known as gingivitis) are caused by plaque (the name given to the build of bacteria that forms on your teeth when they are dirty). If you manage to get rid of this plaque build up whilst it is only minor, the symptoms listed above will stop presenting.

If, on the other hand you fail to take care of the issue, things can get worse. If left unchecked gingivitis may cause your gums to start pulling away from your teeth, leaving a gap in which plaque can form. Obviously, you won’t be able to reach these plaque build ups in the course of your normal routine of brushing and flossing. This will allow them to harden in tartar, at which stage things start to get worse still.

The pockets of tartar, as well as being irritating in their own right, will attack your gums and bones, causing a recession via a process call periodontitis. This may cause your teeth to start falling out, before which a lack of gum may leave roots painfully exposed.

This all sounds very daunting, but take heart. Preventing these problems is simply a matter of preventing plaque and tartar from building up in the first place. Around 50% of adults experience problems with gum disease at some point, so it’s far from uncommon. Simple measures will be enough to stop major problems from occurring.

Tooth Decay

Plaque, as well as being instrumental in gum disease, is also responsible for tooth decay. The bacteria in plaque are capable of turning sugar into acid, which as you can imagine, will cause problems for the layer of enamel that covers your teeth.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at things) your enamel isn’t something you can feel. This means it will start to dissolve without you feeling anything. This is how cavities start. Before too long however, the enamel will be eroded away and the cavity will reach your dentine (the substance within the tooth). At this point, you may be caused discomfort.

The good news is that your saliva contains minerals that help your enamel to rebuild after they’ve been attacked by acid. The bad news is that, as you might have guessed, if you over do it on the sugary foods this natural balance will tipped the wrong way and you will start to experience tooth decay. Chewing sugar free gum can help as it provokes a higher production of saliva, but the real trick is simply to limit the amount of highly sugary foods you consume and to brush regularly.


As discussed above your teeth can be eroded by acid. This applies to both the surface of enamel and the dentrine that lies below. In the case of erosion this acid comes directly from food and drink that you consume rather than being converted from sugar by bacteria, with fruit juice, squash and soft drinks being the main culprits.

As always, prevention is better than cure, so the best course of action is to steer clear of quenching your thirst with these acidic beverages wherever possible. Stomach acid, is just as bad for your teeth as acid from outside sources. Unlike decay or gum disease, erosion is not reversible.

All of these dental conditions are preventable. Good brushing, flossing and regular dentist and hygienist visits actually go a long way towards ensuring your dental health in the long run.

CategoryOral Health
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Member: ADA American Dental Association
TDA: Tennessee Dental Association, Nashville Dental Society