Do you brush your teeth before or after breakfast? For most of us, our teeth cleaning habits haven’t changed since childhood: brushing is such an ingrained habit it can often take quite a while for new research to filter through.
“Even when speaking with health visitors about my own children, there have been a couple of occasions where my wife has kicked me under the table because she can see the vein starting to bulge in my forehead,” says Dr Ben Atkins, president of the Oral Health Foundation. “It’s difficult information to get across. Think about who taught you to brush your teeth. I’m 46, so for me it was a generation born in the 1940s, who have had oral health issues … and then the people who taught them often ended up with no teeth.”
So what should we be doing? “Brush your teeth for about two minutes last thing at night before you go to bed and on one other occasion every day,” is the official NHS advice. But there’s more to healthy, white teeth than that.
“We need to clean our teeth before breakfast,” says Siobhan Kelleher, dental hygienist and TePe educator. “It’s about the pH levels in your mouth,” she says. “When you eat breakfast and you introduce acidic foods, say orange juice or sugary cereal, there’s then an acid attack and teeth are more vulnerable for about an hour afterwards. Brushing beforehand means your teeth have that extra protection against decay before you eat.”
Kelleher also recommends using a TePe interdental brush or flossing before cleaning with a toothbrush. “When you brush your teeth, you’re only cleaning 60% of their surfaces, so 40% of the bacteria, between the teeth, remains after brushing. Using an interdental brush such as TePe will remove it, but you’ll want to use a toothbrush afterwards so that bacteria doesn’t remain on the other parts of your teeth.”
Most experts recommend smaller toothbrush heads, whereas the size needed for an interdental brush will vary from person to person. “It is best to ask a professional,” says Kelleher. “But you could also try buying a multisize pack and seeing which works best for you.”
Fluoridated toothpaste is an essential. “The most important thing to look for is the concentration of fluoride parts per million (ppm),” says Atkins. This must be listed on toothpaste, in the same way as nutritional information on foods, or SPF on sunscreen. Most brands carry it in small print on the back. “Children under three are OK with 1,000 fluoride ppm,” says Atkins. “But for older children and adults, you want between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm. You can get higher concentrations from your dentist, but they are for higher-risk patients.”
And the really important thing is not to rinse your mouth out once you’re done. “You see people rinsing in films all the time,” says Atkins. “But that’s just getting rid of all the fluoride you’ve spent two minutes adding to your mouth.”
But what about the times we slip up? When we skip our usual bedtime routine after a few too many drinks, for instance? “I can’t really say it’s OK,” says Kelleher. “Because you’ll probably have consumed acidic or sugary drinks.”
It takes 24 hours for the gum disease process to start, so when we wake up we’ve still got a chance to redeem ourselves. Remember: clean with an interdental brush first, then apply protective fluoride with your toothbrush and give your teeth a good going over. Spit, but don’t rinse. Finally, smile! Because we’ll have better teeth than the generation who got dental care so wrong.
For more information, visit tepe.com/uk/sustainable-idb