‘Clean between your teeth once a day’: how to maintain good oral health at home

Not been able to see your dentist for some time? Here’s the hygiene tweaks you should make for a brighter smile

You brush your teeth for two minutes, twice a day, so everything should be hunky-dory, right? Chances are, if you haven’t seen your dentist or hygienist for a while due to Covid-19, you may not be feeling as confident as usual about your oral health. But, aside from remembering to buy toothpaste, surely there’s not much else you can do at home?

Not so, say the experts. “Good dental health is a mixture of the care of your dentist and personal at-home oral hygiene, meaning everyday decisions can make a big difference in preventing many common problems,” says Elaine Tilling, TePe’s head of clinical education.

The problem you should tackle right now? Gum disease. “Many people don’t give their gums a second thought, but most adults in the UK will have gum disease to some degree,” says Tilling. “Plaque – an invisible bacterial film that develops on your teeth every day – is the main cause. And, if that plaque isn’t brushed away, it can build up and irritate your gums, making them swollen and bleed easily, and sometimes sore and infected.”

The tell-tale sign of problems? Blood in the sink after brushing, or bad breath, which suggests you’re in the early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis. “Healthy gums don’t bleed when you brush or clean between your teeth,” says Tilling. “Many of us don’t act on this blood because bleeding after brushing is so common that it is considered normal – unlike other dental problems such as toothache or sensitivity, it isn’t painful. However, it’s a sign of an issue that needs addressing.”

Untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, which can ultimately cause teeth to become loose and fall out. Not only that, if gum disease is left to become severe, it can trigger inflammation, which can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious conditions. The hormones associated with pregnancy can make some women susceptible to gum problems, which is why it’s especially important to look after your teeth and gums if you’re pregnant (NHS dental care is free for pregnant women and during the 12 months after you’ve given birth).

So, if you don’t want to add “neglected my teeth” to the countless list of reasons why 2020 has not been the best year, don’t brush off your concerns. First up, it’s useful to know that your toothbrush only cleans the inside, outside and biting surfaces of the tooth, which is roughly 60% of the tooth’s surface. This means that up to 40% of surfaces can remain untouched, and it’s often here that dental plaque and bacteria build up. Within 24 to 36 hours, that plaque becomes more potent to the gums and teeth. Plaque buildup hardens into tartar over time, which can only be removed by professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist.

“To combat this, everyone should be cleaning the surfaces between their teeth, which is where an interdental brush comes in,” says Tilling. Hello, tiny TePe interdental brushes. “Doing this daily ensures the plaque never gets the chance to mature, helping to keep the gums healthy.”

For the uninitiated, interdental brushes are specially designed to clean between your teeth, where your regular brush can’t reach. “You should clean between your teeth once a day with either dental floss – if spaces are tight – or an interdental brush,” says Tilling. “With an interdental brush all you need to do is move it gently back and forth a few times between each tooth and you’re done.”

A word of warning: you may notice blood when you first start cleaning interdentally, but don’t worry. “There may be blood initially, but remember that bleeding gums are a sign of gum inflammation, something that thorough cleaning will help to tackle and prevent,” says Tilling.

Also, when brushing with your regular toothbrush, don’t be overzealous. “Gums can start to recede a little for various reasons – through age, because you’re predisposed, or because of heavy-handed brushing – but this can make them feel more sensitive,” says Tilling. “To keep your gums healthy, don’t scrub up and down with your toothbrush, which can contribute to the problem. Instead, use gentle circular motions around the teeth and gums. Also, to minimise damage, use a soft or medium brush with a small head and work in small circles, always showing respect for the soft tissue.”

And try not to brush your teeth straight after eating, says Tilling. She recommends waiting for 30 minutes, as the tooth surfaces are softened with acids from food and brushing straight away can damage them further – leaving some time for your saliva to neutralise these acids first makes sense, especially if you have been eating or drinking acidic food or drink as brushing can damage the acid-softened tooth surfaces if done before your saliva has had the chance to remineralise it.

To keep your teeth white during this time, also memorise this rule: any food or drink that will stain a white shirt will stain your teeth. So, as well as brushing and interdental cleaning to prevent deposits building up on your teeth (it is these that stain, not the tooth surface), use a paper straw when you drink anything with colour and afterwards swill water around your mouth to reduce staining.

But, of course, if you have any dental health concerns, get in touch with your dental practice. The NHS advises those with good oral health should visit their dentist every 12-24 months, but if you have any problems then visit more frequently. You may also want to visit a dental hygienist every six months – check out more information on dental care and Covid-19 at dentalhealth.org. Although it’s unlikely dental services will return to normal for some time yet, your dental team will be doing all they can to ensure that you receive the treatment you require in the safest way. We’ll brush to that.