Your oral health care plan

Good oral health involves more than just brushing. To keep your teeth and mouth healthy for a lifetime of use, there are steps that you should follow. Here’s what you should consider:

1. Understand your own oral health needs.

Speak with your dentist or hygienist about any special conditions in your mouth and any ways in which your medical/health conditions affect your teeth or oral health. For example, cancer treatments, pregnancy, heart disease, diabetes and dental appliances (dentures, braces) can all have an impact on your oral health and may necessitate a change in the care of your mouth and/or teeth. Make sure you tell your dentist if you have experienced any change in your general health or your medications since your last dental visit.

2. Develop, then follow, a daily oral health routine.

Based on discussions with your dentist and hygienist, and considering your unique general health and oral health situation, develop an oral health routine that is easy to follow on a daily basis. For example, people with special conditions – such as pregnancy, diabetes and other underlying diseases, or who have orthodontic appliances – may require additional instruction and perhaps treatments to keep their mouth healthy. Make sure you understand the additional care and/or treatment that is needed and incorporate it into your daily health routine.

3. Use fluoride.

Children and adults can benefit from fluoride use. Fluoride strengthens developing teeth in children and prevents tooth decay in both children and adults. Toothpastes and some mouthwashes contain fluoride. Contact your water supplier to find out if your water is fluoridated. Talk to your dentist about your fluoride needs. If you are at high risk of dental decay your dentist may recommend a fluoride supplement. Fluoride supplements should only be taken on the advice of a dentist. Special care is needed to ensure that young children do not have too much fluoride (as may happen if, for example, they consistently swallow fluoride toothpaste and also have fluoride added to their drinking water), as this can stain the teeth.

4. Brush and floss daily.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day (morning and before bedtime) and floss at least once a day. Better still would be to brush after every meal. These activities remove plaque, which, if not removed, combines with sugars to form acids that lead to tooth decay. Bacterial plaque also causes gum disease and other periodontal diseases (diseases affecting the tissues around and supporting the teeth).

5. Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks.

Eat a variety of foods, but eat fewer foods that contain sugars and starches (such as biscuits, cakes, sweets, ice cream, dried fruits and raisins, soft drinks and crisps) and try to limit them to mealtimes only. These foods produce the most acid in the mouth, which begins the decay process. If you must snack between meals, brush your teeth afterwards or chew sugarless gum.

6. If you use tobacco products, stop.

Smoking cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or using chewing tobacco increases your risk of oral cancer and cancers of the larynx, pharynx and oesophagus, and gum disease, as well as causing bad breath, tooth discoloration and contributing to other oral and general health problems.

7. Examine your mouth regularly.

Become familiar with the appearance of your own mouth and teeth through frequent examination. This way, you will be able to catch any changes at an early stage and have them examined by a dentist. Look for the development of any spots, lesions, cuts, swellings or growths on your gums, tongue, cheeks, inside of your lips and floor and roof of your mouth. Examine your teeth for any signs of chipping or cracking, discoloration or looseness. If you experience a change in your bite or develop pain, call your dentist as soon as possible. It is particularly important to have an oral examination if you smoke, since you are at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.

8. Visit your dentist regularly.

Speak with your dentist about the frequency of check-ups that is suitable for you considering your oral health situation. Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommend that the interval be tailored to the individual patient, and this might range from three months for someone with problems to a maximum of every 24 months for a healthy adult.

9. Develop a partnership with your dentist.

Do not be afraid to ask your dentist for more information if you do not understand a treatment or procedure. You should be able to have a free and frank discussion with your dentist about the following types of issues:

  • What are the treatment options for a particular dental condition?
  • How do these options differ in cost and durability?
  • Do all the options solve the problem? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each option?
  • Of the dental treatments being recommended, which are absolutely necessary, which are less urgent, which are elective and which are merely cosmetic?
  • What are the consequences of delaying treatment?
  • How much will the treatment cost?
  • Ask if you are eligible for free NHS treatment, for example if you are under 18, aged 18 and in full-time education, pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months, or if you are receiving certain benefits

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