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Saliva: Oral Health’s MVP

Saliva is such an ordinary thing that you probably haven’t given it much thought, but it’s actually as important to the healthy function of our mouths as oil is to a working car engine.

Saliva is an essential component of our ability to eat, taste our favorite foods, and speak, it’s crucial to a healthy immune system, and it’s our first line of defense against many oral health problems.

Saliva Production And Stages

In a healthy mouth, saliva is produced continuously by the salivary glands, which are located under our tongues and in our cheeks. These glands produce between two and six cups of saliva every day! Saliva is 98-99 percent water, and the restconsists of proteins, digestive enzymes, antimicrobial factors, and electrolytes.

Depending on where food is in the digestive process, saliva goes through a few different stages: cephalic, buccal, oesophageal, gastric, and intestinal. When you smell something delicious and your mouth waters, that’s the cephalic stage! Actually eating moves it to the buccal stage, which helps us swallow food. The oesophageal stage helps move swallowed food down the esophagus.

The last two stages are less pleasant, but still important. If you’re about to throw up, your salivary glands work overtime in the gastric stage so that the stomach acid won’t do as much damage when it comes up and out with the partially digested food. The intestinal stage is similar, activating when the body doesn’t agree with food that reaches the upper intestine.

Saliva And Oral Health

There are many reasons we have saliva, but the most important role it plays for your teeth is keeping your mouth’s pH balanced and flushing away remnants of food to keep everything clean. Eating food tends to make our mouths more acidic, and even though the enamel on our teeth is the hardest substance in our bodies, it only takes a pH of 5.5 to start dissolving it. Many of the foods we eat are far more acidic than that, which makes saliva critical in protecting our teeth.

The antimicrobial factors in saliva also fight bacteria, protecting us against gum disease and bad breath. Growth factors in saliva are why injuries in your mouth (like a burned tongue or a bitten cheek) heal faster than injuries elsewhere on the body. And those are just the benefits to oral health, but saliva does much more.

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When The Spit Runs Dry…

All of these benefits are why dry mouth is such a serious problem. It can happen for a number of reasons. Our mouths tend to go dry in stressful situations. We also tend to produce less saliva in old age. Drug use, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all cause dry mouth as well. Unfortunately, many prescription medications cause dry mouth as a side effect.

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Women’s Oral Health Concerns

Although men and women have a lot in common, there are quite a few differences when it comes to oral health.

Women have some advantages men lack, but also some disadvantages men don’t have to worry about. Let’s take a look at the main ones.

TMJ And Sjögren’s Syndrome

Women account for 90 percent of people suffering from TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome, or chronic pain or soreness in the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. The most obvious cause is bruxism (teeth grinding), but it can also be the result of stress, joint structure, vitamin deficiency, medical conditions like arthritis, and even hormones.

Another condition women are far more prone to than men is Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks salivary glands and tear ducts (resulting in dry mouth and dry eye) before moving on to other tissues and organs. Dry mouth, aside from making chewing and swallowing difficult, is very dangerous to oral health, because saliva washes away food particles, fights bacteria, and neutralizes the mouth’s pH.

With both syndromes, regular dental visits are crucial so that you can get a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that will keep your mouth healthy.

Puberty, Pregnancy, And Menopause

Hormones play a large role in women’s dental health, particularly when they are going through significant changes, such as during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Gingivitis and inflamed gums are common during puberty and pregnancy, which is why it’s especially important to maintain good oral hygiene with daily brushing and flossing under these conditions.

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Dry mouth is a common problem for women going through menopause, and bone loss is another. When bone loss occurs in the jaw, it can compromise the gums and the roots of the teeth. It’s very important for menopausal women to discuss these potential effects with their dentists, ideally before any negative symptoms appear!

Eating Disorders And Teeth

More than twice as many teenage girls suffer from eating disorders than teenage boys, and that ratio persists in different age groups. Eating disorders are life-threatening. They have negative effects on every system in the body, and the mouth is no exception.

Malnutrition, particularly a deficiency in vitamins and minerals essential to keeping teeth and gums healthy, can lead to a variety of oral health problems, but eating disorders can do more direct harm as well. Bulimia in particular can lead to tooth erosion from frequent exposure to stomach acid during purges.

Anyone suffering from an eating disorder should seek psychiatric help to recover mentally, but it will take rigorous dental hygiene and help from dental professionals to maintain or restore good oral health.

You And Your Dentist Make A Great Team!

By this point, you might think women got the short end of the stick all around when it comes to oral health, but one major advantage women have is their tendency to take better care of their teeth. Women are more likely to brush twice a day, floss daily, and keep up with their regular dental appointments than men. They’re also much less likely to try toughing it out whenever they experience tooth pain or other symptoms. These healthy habits combine to greatly reduce the impact of all the above conditions, so keep up the good work!

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The Story Of Your Toothbrush

Have you ever wondered how your toothbrush was made or how it’s different from toothbrushes of the past?

Teeth-cleaning tools have certainly come a long way from the frayed sticks Ancient Egyptians used around 3500 BC!

A Brief History Of The Toothbrush

The first toothbrushes that resemble modern ones were invented in China in the late 1500s, and they consisted of pig bristles attached to a bone or bamboo handle. Before long, the design caught on in Europe, with horse hair sometimes replacing pig. Can you imagine cleaning your teeth with animal hair? It doesn’t sound very fun to us, but there weren’t any other options back then, and it beats chewing on frayed sticks.

Over the centuries, the design gradually became more like the toothbrushes we’re familiar with. Toothbrushes were first mass-produced in 1780, in England. The first toothbrush with nylon bristles was made in 1938. Sixteen years later, Philippe Guy-Wood developed the first electric toothbrush in Switzerland.

Even with the long history of toothbrushes and all the advances in the design, oral hygiene didn’t become a priority in the culture until soldiers brought their strict hygiene regimens home with them from World War II. Just one more reason to be grateful for our troops!

How Your Toothbrush Is Made

Nylon bristles and plastic handles were the last major change in what toothbrushes are made of, but how are they actually made? There are a few different steps. First, the handles are molded from plastic pellets. Then a machine positions and attaches the bristles. Next, another machine trims the bristles to the right length. Finally, the finished toothbrushes are packaged and shipped.

To see the manufacturing process in action, check out this video:

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The most important step before a toothbrush makes it to the cup beside your sink is quality control. The American Dental Association tests new toothbrush designs on comfort and efficiency. Toothbrushes that meet their standards are given the ADA Seal of Acceptance, so make sure any toothbrush you purchase has it!

You And Your Toothbrush

A toothbrush earning the ADA Seal of Acceptance isn’t the end of the story. From there, it’s up to you. Remember to brush your teeth for two full minutes twice a day, store your toothbrush upright in a dry place preferably far from the toilet after you use it, and don’t forget to replace it every few months! A frayed, worn out toothbrush can’t do the job of preventing tooth decay and gum disease as effectively as a toothbrush in good condition.

Need A Recommendation?

We know there are many toothbrushes out there to choose from, and there is no one toothbrush that’s perfect for everyone. Children need different brushes than adults, people with braces need different toothbrushes than people without, people with sensitive teeth need toothbrushes with extra soft bristles, etc. So if you’re having trouble finding the best one for you, just ask us at your next dental appointment!

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The Big Scoop On Tooth Sensitivity

Do you get a painful jolt through your teeth every time you try to enjoy a bite of ice cream or a sip of fresh coffee?

If you do, then you’re familiar with the woes of tooth sensitivity, and you’re not alone. More than half of adults between the ages of 20 and 50 experience some degree of sensitivity in their teeth, and children can have sensitive teeth too.

So why does this happen? Well, to understand tooth sensitivity, it helps to know about the structure of a tooth and how the different layers function.

The Anatomy Of A Tooth

The crown of each tooth is covered in a thin layer of hard enamel. Beneath the enamel is dentin, a bony substance with thousands of microscopic tubules running through it. These tubules are how the nerves in the pulp at the core of each tooth can detect what’s going on at the surface.

Causes Of Sensitivity

Most often, tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel wears away, which could be the result of teeth grinding, erosion from acid, or even improper brushing. Without enamel, the tubules in the dentin become exposed. Once that happens, eating or drinking anything hot or cold — sometimes even sweet or sour — will give the tooth a nasty shock.

Another major cause of sensitivity is root exposure. Teeth roots don’t have that layer of enamel; their main defense is the gums. Gum recession, which can also be caused by teeth grinding or improper brushing, leaves the roots vulnerable. Other causes of sensitivity include cavities and having a chipped or fractured tooth.

How You Can Protect Your Teeth

If you do have sensitive teeth, there are several ways to fight back. First, start using a soft-bristled brush if you aren’t already, because hard bristles may further damage the enamel and gum tissue. You can also switch to a toothpaste specifically formulated for sensitive teeth. Finally, avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks, particularly soft drinks.

What Our Practice Can Do

Make sure to come to us if you begin experiencing tooth sensitivity, even if your next regular appointment is months away. We can strengthen your teeth with a fluoride varnish, perform dental restoration work on areas with enamel loss, recommend a gum graft to cover exposed roots, or prescribe a desensitizing toothpaste. We’ll also make sure there aren’t any other problems with your teeth!

Paying For Your Dental Treatment

Taking care of your teeth can be an expensive business. That’s why it’s worth reminding readers that the simplest and easiest way to do this is by brushing twice a day, flossing regularly and avoiding sugary food and drink where possible.

But whether it’s a routine checkup or major work, there will be times when that trip to the dentist is essential. And paying for it can be a key issue for many, depending on the size of the work.

What are my options when it comes to the NHS?

Even if you use the NHS, you will still have to pay, unless you are receipt of benefits, retired, etc. The NHS charges on a sliding scale of fixed prices, as follows:

Band 1: £19.70. This covers essentials like dental examination, diagnostics and consultation. You can also get X-Rays, scale and polish, moulds, colour photography, marginal corrections of filings and other small work. It also lays the groundwork for additional work where required.

Band 2: £53.90. This band covers everything in Band 1, and also further treatments like root canals, transplanting and removing teeth, fillings and dental extractions.

Band 3: £233.70. This level covers everything in Bands 1 and 2, plus major work like veneers, crowns, bridges and other treatments.

For a full, detailed list of the procedures covered by each band, click here. There is a limit to NHS treatment, however, and treatments such as whitening, veneers, and implants are only available privately, except in cases of clinical need. If you have any specific questions, it’s best to consult your dentist for further information. There are services which can help you spread the cost of your NHS dental treatment to make it more manageable.

What other options do I have when it comes to paying for dental treatment?

You can use a private dentist for certain procedures not covered by the NHS, and it’s worth noting that your NHS dentist and your private dentist may in fact be one and the same thing.

In terms of paying the costs of routine dental work and more major dental surgery, you can spread these in a few different ways. One option is a capitation policy, whereby you spread the cost of your dental needs over 12 months, by making an arrangement with your dentist.

Another is to take out dental insurance, and this can be a convenient and flexible option, covering you for routine treatment, as well as more complex work, and even accidents, and worldwide emergencies. There are different levels of cover and it’s important to familiarise  yourself with a policy before purchasing.

Besides this, it’s worth checking to see if you have cover through your employer, and you can also decide to put aside savings to cover your dental costs as they arise.

What you choose to do will depend on your individual circumstances, although it’s certainly worth consulting insurance companies like Dencover in the first instance for more information, to help you in your decision. And it’s also important to note that, whatever you decide to do, taking good care of your teeth is the best, and cheapest policy of all.

Train your brain: build a better oral health routine

The majority of us have set routines that we adhere to. Whether it’s what we do when we wake up in the morning or the first thing we do when we get home from work. Our brain is structured to create these “shortcuts” for us.

They make our life easier and mean that we don’t have to think about every single thing we do.

However, unfortunately, some of these shortcuts aren’t actually that good for us. Because our brains like to take the easy route we often miss doing the things we need to do. This is why many of us find “we don’t have time” for something or fall into bad habits.

When it comes to our oral health routine if you’re forgetting to brush your teeth, brushing at irregular times, not brushing your teeth for more than 2 minutes, drinking too many sugary drinks or just never managing to floss one of the major causes is your brain. We know we should do these things but our brain has other ideas.

So now let’s look at some hacks to retrain your brain – so that your routine is as perfect as possible.

Creating a new loop

According to neuroscientific research habits are composed of three parts – the cue, the routine, the reward. The cue prompts you to do something, the routine is what you do and the reward is why you do it.

For example, skipping your evening teeth routine. The cue would be you want to sleep, the routine is you put on your pyjamas, the reward is more time in bed and quicker sleep.

The most effective way to change a routine is to keep the reward but change the precursors.

So in this case we want to maximise our sleep (the reward) and increase the time we have for teeth cleaning and flossing.

How can we achieve this?

In this example there are a huge number of ways you could create this new pattern. What will work for you will largely be determined by your evening routine. You could try moving dinner forward 10 minutes, making sure you organise your clothes for the morning as soon as you get back from work or you could limit your evening TV time.

The key here is to find a way to change that allows you to incorporate the new routine easily into your lifestyle. The new cue will be wanting to sleep, the routine will be brushing your teeth and the reward will be sleep.

Because we have increased the time available in our evening it will be easier to incorporate our new routine without shortcutting. We might also find that we could clean our teeth at a different time to create an entirely new routine.

Keeping the routine

Most people fail their routines within the first week. It takes at least 2 months for a routine to become habit and you need to stick at it – even with set-backs. Below you can find some of my best tips for sticking to your new habit.

1. More rewards

Reward yourself for milestone achievements – 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months. This can be a physical reward and should scale with the milestone. If you hit 2 months continuously reward yourself with a big treat.

2. Chart your progress

Put a chart on your fridge or in another prominent place and tick off every day you achieve your goals. This gives you a great visual cue and lets your track your rewards.

3. Set an alarm

Set a repeating alarm on your phone to give yourself a cue that it’s time to brush your teeth. Set a reminder alarm five minutes after the first, and then another.

4. Ask for help

Asking others to remind you and help push you is always a good idea. It will help keep you motivated.

5. Coach yourself

One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to coach yourself through them. In our case this can be as simple as thinking about the health and hygiene benefits of brushing and flossing throughout the day.

Hopefully these hacks will help you to get a better oral health routine up and running. We wish you the very best of luck in mastering all the habits you want using these techniques.

11 tips to cut down on sugar: ending our addiction to sugar

Fact! Sugar is bad for our teeth. Of course, this comes as no surprise yet sugar-related dental problems are still the most widespread cause of poor oral health and disease. The message is clear and simple though, reducing the amount of sugar which is in our diets will help to reduce the damage it can cause to our teeth, with the added bonus of improving our waistlines along the way.

But even here at the Oral Health Foundation offices we are sometimes guilty of straying from our own advice and over indulging on sugar. That is why it is important to be smart on sugar so that it does not catch us out.

With sugar-related dental problems being one of the most common complaints when visiting the dentist, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO at the Oral Health Foundation, share his top tips to help with our ever-growing addiction to sugar:

1.Sugar by any other name is still sugar

When we think of sugar we probably picture the white stuff you pop in our tea. But there are many ‘hidden’ sugars in lots of things we would not even think of. Sugar can go by many names and recognising them is the first step to avoiding them. There are too many to list but some to look out for are; sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, molasses, hydrolysed starch and corn syrup.

2.Have a smarter breakfast

A certain celebrity chef recently brought attention to the dangerously high levels of sugar in some breakfast cereals, with some shockingly made up of almost a third of sugar. Switching out for a lower sugar cereal or one with no added sugar, and not adding any yourselves, will have a massive impact on your dental health and your health overall. Filling up at breakfast time is also a great way to avoid those unhealthy snacks throughout the day.

3.Snack happy

It’s 10:30 and we get that urge. It’s a little too far away from lunch and we need something to tide us over. Don’t reach for the biscuit barrel, a handful of nuts will provide that energy boost you need. Remember it’s not only about how much sugar we eat when it comes to your teeth it’s also about how often, so try opting for a sugar free alternative whenever possible.

4.Fat free is not trouble free

Many products are marketed as a ‘healthy alternative’, but those claims on the packaging are only telling part of the story. Often products such as fat free yogurts still contain high levels of sugars in the form of fructose or refined sugar. A good tip is to look out for the traffic light system when we’re doing our shopping.

5.Work out some ground rules

Let’s be honest, we don’t need a sweet dessert every day! By setting a set of simple ground rules we can make some simple lifestyle changes which can have a huge effect. Simple things like, not eating in the hour before you go to bed, avoiding adding sugar to anything and making sure we avoid dessert a few times a week soon adds up.

6.Get fresh

When it comes to our teeth fresh whole foods are best, this all comes down to stickiness. By smashing up a banana and strawberry into a smoothie it releases the sugars which then are able to coat the whole tooth, even in the tiny gaps, eating them whole helps to avoid this problem. And when it comes to stickiness dried fruit is a big no-no, this stuff can get right in those gaps giving the sugar a huge amount of time to cause problems.

7.Set a quota

When it comes to our teeth it’s not only about how much sugar you eat it’s how often you have it. It takes an hour for our mouth to return to a neutral state after eating or drinking and every time we have another mouthful that time starts again. Constant grazing can leave us with a toothless grin so if we do need a sugar fix, keep it to mealtimes and give our mouth a break.

8.Hit the hay early

Being a night owl can spell bed news for our mouth and this is all down to routine. People who stay up late are more likely to skip brushing before bed and with the added midnight snacking this could spell disaster for our teeth. We can’t snack when were asleep so getting an early night can have a wonderful effect. This comes with the added problem that is……

9.The most important meal of the day

How many of us have skipped breakfast and then yearn for that sugary fix to get us through the day? This comes down again to giving our mouths a break to recover, have a filling and nutritious breakfast is the best way to start your day of right.

10.Drinking like a fish

Alcoholic drinks account for 11% of the UK population’s daily intake of added sugar. Whether it’s that pint of cider, glass of prosecco or even a cheeky G&T the sugar in them can have a huge impact on our oral health. Try to moderate the amount of alcoholic drinks you have and also have some water nearby to help wash down your tipple of choice. It helps wash some of the sugar from the mouth and our head will thankyou the next day too.

11.Keep an eye on your coffee order

Our double chocolaty chip crème frappuccino or tiramisu latte with extra whipped cream from our favourite coffee place may be delicious, and fun to say, but let’s be honest we know its laden with sugar. If we do need a caffeine fix and have a sweet tooth try to keep it to meal times, or we could just stick with an Americano or espresso.

Why Dental Health Check Ups are so Important

One of the major issues facing dentists, patients and patients wallets is that the majority of us don’t visit the dentist on a regular basis. According to research from NHS Digital (previously the Health and Social Care Information Centre) half of UK adults haven’t been to the dentist in the last two years. More than a quarter of adults only visit the dentist when they have a problem.

The infrequency and irregularity of dental check-ups is causing a huge number of problems for us. The facts say a lot here with 31% of adults having tooth decay, 66% of us having visible plaque and 29% of the population suffering from regular pain in the mouth or teeth.

How Often Should You Visit the Dentist

Both adults and children should visit the dentist regularly, as often as they recommend. For those with certain medical conditions, your dental team may want to see you more often.

It is also important to remember that certain types of medication may impact our oral health too, for instance, patients who have ‘dry mouth’ caused by medication may be more likely to get tooth decay and will need to visit their dental team more often.

Why Dental Check Ups Are So Important

The problem we have is that many of us ignore the health of our mouth, especially when we compare it to our overall body health. We allow problems to develop before we actually visit the dentist.

There are a wide number of issues this creates but we have listed the two most common issues left unchecked;

Allowing Gums to Bleed

Allowing your gums to bleed helps create cavities and inflamed gums – pockets develop under the gum-line filled with bacteria that eat away the teeth and eventually the bone causing tooth loss. Visiting the dentist regularly can ensure your gum health is properly maintained and early treatment prevents serious problems developing.

Tooth Pain

Tooth pain is most often caused from cavities forming. Once a cavity reaches the stage where it is causing pain then root canal treatment (or possibly tooth loss) is more likely, or an extensive filling. Regular check-ups ensure that the beginnings of a filling can be identified, treated and additional brushing routines created.

Overall dental check-ups will dramatically decrease the potential for all oral health problems becoming serious. They are also cost effective compared to paying for expensive major dental works such as tooth replacements, crowns and gum repair.

There may be life in your old toothbrush yet: 10 amazing uses for your old toothbrush

How many toothbrushes do you think you have thrown away during your life? We are advised to change our toothbrush every three months, so in theory by the time somebody is 30 they will have already binned around 120 toothbrushes.

There are estimated to be more than 64 million people in the UK which could mean more than 256 million toothbrushes are discarded every year. That’s a very big pile of plastic but have you ever thought what happens to them? Here at the Oral Health Foundation we have taken a look at the potential uses for your toothbrush after it has finished its primary job of cleaning your teeth. What we have found is that we are remarkably creative when it comes to prolonging the usefulness of our little bristled friends.

Encouragingly, our research shows that 80% of us choose to repurpose our toothbrushes, so here are 10 best life hacks for your toothbrush which could save you valuable time and money and your environment.


1. Nail brush magic – Admit it, removing that stubborn dirt from beneath our nails can be difficult and even tedious. Use your old toothbrush to remove it in seconds! One person even told us they keep one in their handbag just in case they need to brush up on the go.

2. Wheelie good – A surprising number of people told us they use their old toothbrush to clean the chain on their bicycle. Apparently, it is the perfect size to get into those little places.

3. Back to the bathroom – Some toothbrushes are never destined to leave the bathroom. By far the most popular use of an old toothbrush is to help clean those hard to reach cracks and crannies in the bathroom, and it certainly comes in handy for scrubbing the grout between the tiles.

4. Putting the sparkle back – An old toothbrush is the perfect tool to give your jewellery back their shine and sparkle, giving you back your brilliant bling!

5. Getting fishy – This may not have been one of the most popular but was definitely one of the more unusual uses. A few people told us they use an old toothbrush to clean ornaments in their fish tank, as they need a clean home too!

6. Paws for thought – One from the foundation team here, we think this may just be tickly torture but apparently, a toothbrush is perfect for cleaning a dog’s nails and paws.

7. Model behaviour – For you modelling experts out there, and we’re talking more clay than Kate Moss, an old toothbrush is ideal to create texture on your creations.

8. Exfoliate away – To some of the male members of our office this one surprised us as to how widely known it was. Many people use a toothbrush to exfoliate their lips when they are chapped. How somebody finds out this is an effective beauty tip is a different question!

9. Hair today – One for the home hairdressers, a toothbrush is perfect for picking out your highlights, so if you’re in the salon and see a toothbrush on the counter don’t be alarmed.

10. CRUMBS! Take a close look at your computer keyboard. Did you know that your keyboard has been proven to harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat? A toothbrush is perfect for cleaning out all those little nasties. Going out for lunch might be a good idea too.

It is important to remember to change your toothbrush, or head on your electric toothbrush, every three months to help stop the spread of bacteria and to ensure you are brushing your teeth effectively. Be sure that before the next time you go to throw one away, you think about how else you can put it to use around the house – and let us know if you find any usual use for your old toothbrush.

The Oral Health Foundation is supporting the Warwickshire wide ‘Slim your Bin’ scheme, a community focused scheme, and free to all residents living in Stratford-on-Avon district as well as North Warwickshire, Warwick district and Nuneaton and Bedworth borough. Through an engaging community education initiative, the scheme aims to reduce waste and get people recycling more, while benefiting local community projects and promoting community spirit.