Sarah's Health Notes: TLC for your smile

Sarah's Health Notes: TLC for your smile

Gums aren’t a glamorous topic but gum disease is a sight less appealing – not only in terms of consequences such as eroded teeth enamel, bleeding and bad breath - but also in terms of the risks linked to inflammation of this crucial but often somewhat neglected part of the body. Recent research found, for instance, that people with advanced gum disease are much more likely to suffer complications from Covid-10 and up to nine times more likely to die.

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. This sticky substance contains bacteria; some are harmless but others can harm the health of your gums. (Talking numbers: one source says more than 700 types of bacteria mingle in your mouth.) Build-up leads to irritation, which can result in red gums with bleeding, swelling, soreness and infection.

The most visible symptom of gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, is blood on your toothbrush or when you spit out toothpaste. They may bleed when you are eating, which tends to taste unpleasant and bad breath is another side effect.

Problem is that when people notice bleeding, a significant number (19%) stop brushing their teeth at the time and nearly one in ten stop brushing altogether. Bad idea!

According to Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, a charity, you should carry on brushing. ‘Removing the plaque and tartar from around your teeth is vital for managing and preventing gum disease.’ If left untreated, gum disease can lead to abscesses, and over several years, the bone supporting the teeth can be lost so teeth fall out and gums fall in. Not a good look.

Looking after your teeth and gums is not rocket science. If we spent a wee bit of the time we spend looking after our skin on our dental care, we’d sort gum disease easily.

Brush your teeth twice a day. Electric powered toothbrushes with round heads, which oscillate in both directions alternately, give optimal results, according to a review by the Cochrane Oral Health Group. Aim to spend two minutes brushing, 30 seconds on each quadrant. Point the brush head at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line and hold it still on each tooth surface for one second. Don’t brush up and down, side to side.

Clean in between your teeth with interdental brushes or floss before you brush, at least once daily, suggests . Use an interdental brush (e.g. TePe) that fits snugly so it picks up all the bits that may form plaque.

After cleaning, use a tongue scraper. Sounds scary but really isn’t and gently stroking one over your tongue will remove any white coating and dodgy bugs. It takes seconds am/pm. Jasmine Hemsley, a fan of tongue scraping, recommends choosing a copper version, which is naturally antibacterial.

Use a specialised mouthwash, suggests the oral Health Foundation. Clinisept+ Mouthwash has been used for several years by dentists for its ability to heal inflammation of the gums. It also eradicates the anaerobic (meaning ‘doesn’t require oxygen’) bacteria that live in the pockets of gum tissue; these cause gum damage that can eventually lead to teeth falling out. 

Book a check-up with your dentist and a hygiene session. Dental practices in England are now open for urgent and routine treatment.