Today is World Oral Health Day. The main aim is to raise awareness of the impact that oral health can have on overall physical health and well being. Unfortunately for us, Britain seems to have given up on its dental health.
To be specific, successive governments appear to have decided that our dental health no longer has the same level of importance and slashed the availability of free dental care. Britain has one dentist for every 2000 people (WHO 2010) which sounds reasonable. However, seeing a dentist on the NHS has become something of a fabled miracle in many parts of the country.
The NHS is happy to clean up your vomit if you get drunk every night, hold your hand if you inject yourself with too much heroin and help you cough up black phlegm if you spend your days chain smoking. If you don’t brush right though, the NHS is not necessarily your friend.
It is now almost impossible to find an NHS dentist. Even if you are lucky enough to secure one of the prized places, people are still charged up to 80 per cent of the cost of treatment. Being a child, being pregnant or being on social welfare and benefits are the main groups that are entitled to free treatment.
This has left us with a two-tier dental system. The upper tier pays to see a dentist privately and these patients have the unenviable privilege of paying the highest prices in Europe. The second tier scrambles for an NHS dentist and waits so long for partly subsidised treatment that their teeth can crumble or cause agony in the meantime. There is a third tier who have their own pliers and bits of string! Shockingly, more than one in 20 have said that they resort to DIY surgery.
Having bad teeth is not without consequences. For the young and middle aged, bad teeth can make it more difficult to find a good job or a successful relationship. It has been years since I’ve seen a TV presenter without a perfect set of white, straight teeth and as a country, we now spend £360 million on cosmetic dentistry a year.
For the elderly, poor dental health can leave them unable to eat properly or in pain. Gum disease also increases the risk of mouth cancer, and pancreatic cancer in men.
So how can we make sure we care for our teeth? Here are our top tips for a healthy smile:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride, this will prevent tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. Brush your teeth for two minutes each time. Some electric toothbrushes now have timers and apps to help make sure we are covering all our teeth for long enough.
- Teach children at young age about healthy oral hygiene habits and supervise them until around the age of seven. The earlier this becomes part of their life, the more likely it is to become an engrained routine that will stay with them. Children should start seeing a dentist when their baby (milk) teeth first appear. Baby teeth are thinning and less able to withstand the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Decaying baby teeth can have a negative impact on adult teeth and needing extractions (removal of teeth) can lead to problematic adult teeth.
- Health diets which minimise sugars will minimise oral health problems. Fruit juices can be deliciously refreshing but can be high in sugars, try to get into a habit of reading your food labels.
- See your dentist! This might sound a bit obvious but just we get an MOT and service on our car by an expert mechanic, it’s also important to have an MOT on your mouth. Your dentist will advise you on how often you need to be seen, it can vary depending on your dental health.
- Flossing. Using floss or the small interdental brushes can get to the edges of the teeth that brushing can’t. Think about the last time you washed your car, you wouldn’t get wash the bonnet and the boot (trunk) and leave the doors dirty would you?
Healthy teeth used to be a marker of a modern first world society. If Britain doesn’t make changes soon, our lack of investment in dental care will leave us with 18th century teeth.