We all have two sets of teeth but, once childhood is over, the one set has to last us a lifetime. But with a little regular care, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do just that. And by recognising the early warning signs of possible mouth or dental conditions, you can nip any problems in the bud.
Common mouth problems
- Bleeding from the gums (including after brushing): this is often a sign of inflamed or infected gums. It can be a sign of problems with your teeth, and often happens if you brush too hard. See your dentist, who may refer you to a dental hygienist.
- Bad breath: by far the most common cause is plaque build-up from inadequate brushing of teeth. This might be not brushing often enough or for long enough (two minutes each time you brush your teeth is ideal) or simply not brushing the right way. Talk to your dentist or hygienist. If he or she gives your teeth a clean bill of health, talk to your GP – bad breath is occasionally due to medical causes.
- White patches on your gums: thrush in the mouth can cause sticky white patches which, if you peel them off, reveal a sore red mark. It can be caused by using steroid inhalers for some lung conditions, or by ill-fitting dentures. Always see your GP if you find white patches in your mouth – very occasionally they can be pre-cancerous.
- Aphthous ulcers: these small, shallow ulcers affect at least one in five people and don’t cause any serious problems. However, ulcers which don’t heal on their own within a week or so should always be checked out by your GP.
- Dry mouth: this is often a side-effect of medicines, including some depression medication, aspirin and water tablets for high blood pressure. It gets more common as you get older or after the menopause. Talk to your GP.
Top tips for good oral health
- See your dentist regularly, even if you have dentures.
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes.
- Floss at least twice a day to remove food which brushing the teeth can’t reach.
- Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva, which helps to remove plaque.
- Don’t smoke (ashtray breath as well as mouth cancer - need I say more?).
- If you take regular inhaled steroids, always rinse your mouth well after use.
- Avoid fizzy drinks – sugar-free versions may be better for your waistline, but they’re just as bad for your teeth.
Mouthwashes – do they do more harm than good?
We spend millions of pounds a year in the UK on mouthwashes. They are promoted to fight bad breath, cut tooth decay by reducing plaque and prevent gum problems. But in recent years, scare stories about mouthwashes have sprung up regularly. Some claim they damage the enamel of your teeth; others that they cause mouth cancer. So what’s the truth?
Some mouthwashes are very acidic. They can make tooth decay worse if you use them too often or for too long, especially if you also suffer from heartburn or acid reflux.
Many mouthwashes contain alcohol. They tend to dry your mouth out and can actually make bad breath worse as a result. Incidentally, they can also cause you to fail a breathalyser test, even if you haven’t drunk any other alcohol.
It still isn’t clear whether there is any link between mouthwashes and cancer of the mouth but, to be on the safe side, you should never use them more often than recommended. Many people love the fresh taste and feel of mouthwash. But to keep any risks to a minimum:
- Avoid any mouthwashes containing alcohol.
- Don’t use mouthwash more than twice a day.
- Choose a mouthwash with a ‘neutral’ pH (acidity level).