Oral health in lockdown

Dental practices in England are set to reopen from Monday [8 June] but it won’t quite be business as usual, with limited treatments on offer and a reduction in the number of patients that can be seen. While dental practices tackle the challenges to bring full dental services back to the public, the Oral Health Foundation is offering advice on how to maintain a healthy smile at home.

It’s all part of National Smile Month, a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of having good oral health.

By adopting a few simple habits, the charity says everybody can achieve a healthier mouth. Not only will this reduce your chances of oral diseases like tooth decay and gum disease. But it can also have a positive impact on your wider health, reducing your risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and dementia.

According to the Oral Health Foundation, a healthy smile is only three steps away.

The daily oral hygiene routine

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: “Keeping your mouth healthy at home is relatively easy and only takes around five minutes a day.

“A good daily oral health routine includes twice-daily tooth brushing, interdental cleaning and mouthwash.”

Eva Castro Perea, Professional & Academic Manager at Oral-B, adds: “Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, with fluoride toothpaste is the best thing you can do to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

“This is because brushing removes plaque. If plaque isn’t removed, it continues to build up and could lead to a number of oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease. Over time, this can lead to tooth loss.

“Brushing should be done last thing at night and at one other time during the day, ideally in the morning.”

The Oral Health Foundation advises using mouthwash once a day before brushing your teeth while interdental cleaning should be daily too.

The charity says chewing sugar-free gum in between meals can also help prevent tooth decay by neutralising plaque acids in the mouth.

A healthy balanced diet

“What you eat and drink can have a big impact on the health of your mouth,” adds Dr Carter.

“The two things to look out for in your food and drink are sugar and acid. These have the potential to cause damage to your teeth.

“Sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produces harmful acids. This is the cause of tooth decay.

“Acidic foods and drinks can be just as harmful. Over time, the acid can ‘erode’ or dissolve the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly. Once the enamel has worn away, is gone for good therefore it is important to protect it.”

Andrei Gutierrez, Expert Marketing Manager at GSK, the manufacturing company of Sensodyne Pronamel, says: “It is better for your teeth and general oral health if you have your acidic fruit and drinks as part your main meals. This reduces the amount of time your teeth are exposed to acids.”

“Milk and water are the best drinks for teeth, and if you are to snack, cheese and nuts are tooth-friendly choices.”

The use of a fluoride toothpaste and a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease, tooth loss, bad breath and other oral health problems.

The dental team

Last week, the Government gave the green light for dental practices to reopen in England from 8 June 2020.

However, experts are keen to communicate that it won’t quite be business as usual.

“For a dental practice to treat you, they will need fully compliant PPE, to exercise social distancing measures and apply appropriate cross-infection controls,” adds Dr Carter.

“The difficulty in sourcing PPE of the highest quality means there may be a delay before your dental practice can fully reopen while the range of treatments on offer might be limited.

“Your dental practice will also need to allow for more time in between each patient. This means that during the day, they will only be able to see a reduced number of people.”

Dental practices across the England have been working to source high quality PPE and to install further measures to create an environment which is safe for both the patient and members of staff.

As most dental practices are set to prioritise vulnerable groups and patients at higher risk of dental disease, it may be some time before they begin to offer check-ups.

Despite this, the dental team are still there to help you. If you are in pain because of your oral health, do not ignore the issue. The advice from the charity is to be proactive and seek help as soon as you notice there is a problem.

Dr Carter says: “Dentists, along with dental hygienists, therapists and nurses should be available to speak to by calling your dental practice. They can give you advice and diagnosis over the phone and assess your need for any urgent treatment.

“Dentists can also still issue prescriptions where needed. These can be important for managing conditions and slowing the progression of a disease before it can be treated face-to-face.”

While dental practices in England are set to reopen, those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain closed.

Patients in England have been reminded not to show up at their dental practice without an appointment. Appointments can be made by calling the dental practice.

If you need help with your oral health and cannot contact your dental practice, you can try the Oral Health Foundation’s Dental Helpline for advice and guidance. The Dental Helpline is available on 01788 538 780 or [email protected]


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