How to get cleaner, healthier, whiter teeth

While many people have insecurities about their pearly whites, one survey actually found that over 50% of people were worried the state of their teeth could hinder their chances of finding love, there are all sorts of quick, easy, inexpensive ways to bring a brighter smile to our faces.

Watch out for gum disease

A happy smile is a healthy one, so before getting stuck into brightening, it’s a good idea to tick off any underlying issues. Gum disease (when the gum becomes painful, swollen, or infected) is suprisingly common. Signs of early gum disease (otherwise known as gingivitis) include bleeding gums and bad breath.

You might think that such a common condition isn’t worth worrying about, but gum disease is really worth nipping in the bud. Untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, where abscesses develop and gums recede. Periodontitis can affect the jawbone and cause spaces to open between the gum and teeth, which can come loose and eventually fall out. It is thought that the intense inflammation from gum disease can affect the blood vessels in the heart and brain.

Keep it clean

Most gum disease is caused by poor oral hygiene, such as not brushing and flossing properly and regularly. The main culprit, plaque, is formed when bacteria in our mouths combines with saliva. It’s easy to remove plaque with brushing and flossing, but if it has hardened to form tartar, a visit to the dentist or dental hygienist is called for to remove it. Age, genetics and many other factors such as smoking, stress, having diabetes and undergoing chemotherapy can also increase our risk of gum disease. Celebrity dentist, Dr Richard Marques explains that this is because all these factors can affect the immune system. He says: “By lowering the immune system, the gums become more susceptible to gum disease.”

Hormones can also have an impact on our gum health too. Pregnancy, menopause and even monthly period hormonal changes can cause gums to become more sensitive and increase the risk of gum disease.

Sensitive teeth – the root cause

Hot, cold, sweet, sour – these can be kryptonite for those with sensitive teeth, triggering pain when the underlying layer of our teeth (known as dentin, usually protected by hard enamel or our gums) becomes exposed. Roots are also a week link as they are not covered by hard enamel and contain thousands of channels connected to the tooth’s nerve.

Don’t brush it off

Tooth enamel may be the strongest material in our bodies, but brushing too vigorously and/or teeth grinding can wear it away. Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles and tea can also cause erosion, though swishing a mouthful of milk around your mouth after eating can help to neutralise these acids.

Stay strong

There are a number of ways to keep our teeth strong. Start by switching to a soft-bristle toothbrush and use gentle, circular movements around your gums to avoid removing more gum tissue. You’ll have spotted many toothpastes for sensitive teeth on the market. The most effective for pain control contain particles that block the nerves. Dr Marques explains: “The ingredients can vary for different brands. Potassium nitrate is one to look out for. These ingredients block the microscopic pores in the enamel that contain the nerve endings. By doing this they stop cold or hot temperatures from reaching the tooth nerves.”

Try applying a little of this toothpaste to exposed roots before going to bed. If you’re a tooth grinder, you should always use a mouthguard at night.

Tongue scraping

Long-term use of some mouthwashes can cause problems if they contain acids that worsen sensitivity when you have exposed dentin. In these instances, look for a neutral fluoride solution. You may like to limit your mouthwash use as some can disrupt natural, beneficial gum bacteria. One way to remove the white coating on your tongue (a combination of bacteria and food debris) is the ancient practice of tongue scraping. Studies show that tongue scraping reduces levels of plaque-causing bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. A scraper will cost just a few pounds and can be bought online and in chemists – they are often made of copper, a naturally antibacterial metal. To use a tongue scraper, simply scrape from the back to the front of your tongue up to ten times very first thing in the morning, rinsing the build up from your scraper as you go, before brushing and flossing as normal. Finish off by oil pulling, by swishing a tablespoon of oil, such as coconut, in your mouth then spitting it out before you brush your teeth.

White and bright

Even those scoring top marks in oral hygiene may feel they’d like whiter teeth. As we age, teeth naturally become more yellow, as food and drink (such as tea, coffee and red wine) can stain them. It’s increasingly popular to pay for treatment to brighten teeth, whether with professional help or DIY methods. Watch out for tooth-whitening products that contain baking soda or peroxide as these are known to contribute to sensitivity. Teeth-whitening treatments generally contain peroxide as an active ingredient, as it is able to pass through the pores of the enamel to bleach the tooth from the inside.

Professional teeth whitening costs in the region of £400 and requires several visits to the dentist to make a mouthguard which is used at home with a bleaching gel. Alternatively, you can opt for laser, or #power’ whitening. This takes place at the dentist, where a bleaching product is painted on to your teeth and a light shone on them for around an hour to activate the product.

Post-whitening, teeth invariably gather stains again, with effects lasting from a few months to a few years. Avoid smoking, or too much tea coffee and red wine, and you can help limit staining and prolong a sparkling smile.

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