Cavities, gum disease and bad breath are all indicators of poor oral health.
According to the Australian Dental Association's 2020 Adult Oral Health Tracker, nearly a third of the adult population in 2020 has untreated tooth decay, up from 25 per cent in 2018, while less than half the adult population report brushing twice daily or visiting a dentist in the last 12 months.
Understanding the processes going on in your mouth is critical to preventing poor oral health, according to dentist Dr Crystal Koh, from at Lakeside Studio in Swansea, NSW.
"Bacteria feed on food and debris left on teeth surfaces, producing acid, which causes break down of tooth structure, leading to cavities.
"Bacteria in the mouth also leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), which manifests as swollen, red and bleeding gums.
"Gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss.
"Bacteria also produce odor which left unbrushed will lead to halitosis (bad breath)."
In the lead-up to Dental Health Week (August 3-9) the ADA is urging adults and children to follow four simple rules to maintain good oral health.
1. Brush morning and night
Saliva plays a pivotal role in flushing the oral environment during the day but when we are asleep, our salivary glands produce very little saliva.
"That's why it is so important to brush before you go to bed and when you wake up," Dr Koh said.
"Brushing before bed removes food particles that bacteria may feed on, and brushing in the morning will help remove the by-products of that bacterial activity, for a fresher morning breath."
There are also some golden rules when it comes to the right way to brush your teeth to maintain gum hygiene.
- Use a small soft brush so as not to damage enamel or gums.
- Use one pea-sized blob of fluoride-toothpaste.
- Tilt your brush at 45 degrees to clean gums.
- Brush in circles gently.
- If using an electric toothbrush hold the brush still for three seconds on each tooth.
- Brush inside and outside on all chewing surfaces. Then upper and lower teeth. Don't miss inside front teeth. Brush up and down to reach these properly.
- Brush tongue to get rid of bacteria.
2. Floss regularly
It is important to floss every night to ensure that food or debris in between the teeth is removed before going to bed.
"Brushing only cleans three out of five surfaces of your teeth," Dr Koh said.
"Flossing helps clean in between the teeth, where toothbrush bristles cannot get access to.
"This will help minimize the occurrence of halitosis, gum disease and cavities."
Dr Koh suggests a "Wind, Guide, Glide and Slide" approach.
"Wind the floss between your fingers to form a 3cm to 5cm string, guide that string between your teeth, glide it across the base and contours of the tooth and slide it up and down," she said.
3. Nutritious diet low in sugar
Food choices and frequency of consumption will affect not just your general health, but also your oral health.
"Frequent consumption of bottled fruit juices, soft drinks, energy drinks and snacking on foods with hidden sugars like biscuits, crackers, cereals, chips and even dried fruit can cause acid attacks on your teeth," Dr Koh said.
4. Visit your dentist regularly
Regular dental check-ups and x-rays will reveal issues that can be easily fixed before they turn into something more serious and painful.
"Regular scaling and cleaning will also help maintain gum health and keep gum disease at bay," Dr Koh said.
Non-urgent appointments were deferred at the peak of COVID-19 restrictions.
Dentists are now at 'Level 1' restrictions, which means all dental treatment can be carried out using standard precautions on patients who do not present with risk factors.
"Infection control standards in Australia are among the strictest in the world," Dr Koh said. "COVID-19 screening is carried out on patients prior to their appointments to ensure everyone's safety."