Healthy teeth without wasting a drop!

Lynette Anear is part of the oral health promotion team at Sussex Community NHS Trust, running clinics and information sessions across West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to support good oral health. When Lynette saw our ‘Use every drop’ dare she jumped at the chance to share her knowledge; we were suggesting you turn off the tap when brushing – but in fact, you don’t need to turn on the tap at all!

We asked Lynette to explain…


It’s all in the technique

Brushing teeth seems easy but it’s never too late to improve on your technique to keep your teeth as healthy as possible – and reduce your impact on the environment at the same time.

Here’s some simple guidance…

  • For starters, don’t over wet the toothbrush – you don’t need to wet it at all! [Eds note: think of the water you’ll save!]
  • Use a pea sized blob of fluoride toothpaste (children under three only need a smear). Fluoride content should be not less than 1000 parts per million (ppm) for under threes and 1350-1500ppm for 3+.
  • Brush in a circular motion and include the gums. Children need help with back teeth until around eight years old as their wrist does not twist fully before then.
  • Brush for two minutes.
  • Spit but don’t rinse when done – this allows the fluoride to be absorbed into the tooth enamel to strengthen it. Try not to have a drink of water for at least 30 minutes after brushing.
  • Adults need to floss or use an interdental bush once a day too to get right between their teeth.

This guidance is based on Public Health England’s recently published toolkit for delivering better oral health, available here.

Brushing teeth

To wash or not to wash?

Mouthwash actually doesn’t help immediately after brushing as it contains a much smaller amount of fluoride than toothpaste.

Instead, use it at other times of the day – and check it is a no alcohol version with added fluoride as some aren’t.

When the time is right

So, we all know how to brush our teeth, but if we just tweak when we brush we can make our brushing more effective.

Everyone should be brushing at bedtime and at least once more each day – but before or after breakfast?

To help you decide let me tell you what happens in your mouth each time you eat or drink anything containing sugar. The plaque bacteria (which we all have), feeds on the sugar and produces an acid. This is the type of acid that makes holes in our teeth. However, up to an hour after eating our saliva neutralizes the acid and re-mineralizes our tooth enamel.

So it all depends on how much time you have. If you can wait at least half an hour after finishing your breakfast before brushing, that is fine. If your morning routine is faster paced, then brush first thing. And if you brush first thing there will be very little plaque bacteria to act on any sugar in your breakfast.

Snacking is the danger zone

Snack selectively to avoid sugar damage between meals.

Good snacks include milk, water, tea or coffee without sugar to drink (sweeteners are OK for teeth), then fruit or vegetable sticks or something savoury to eat.

Now I hear you ask, doesn’t fruit contain sugar? Yes it does, but if it is fresh fruit the sugar is locked in the cells and will be mostly released in our stomach.

Fruit that has been liquidised, cooked or dried has had the cell structure broken down, the sugar has been released, and it will be able to get to work on your teeth.

Fruit, cheese and snacks

That said, fresh fruit can be a danger to your teeth because of the natural erosive acids it contains. The good thing is that a centimetre sized square of hard cheese will help to neutralise those acids – a good snack combination.

Fizzy drinks we all know are bad, but as a treat just drink through a straw to avoid it passing over the front teeth.

One more thing, visit your dentist as often as they recommend.

If you have any questions about oral healthcare feel free to contact Lynette by email on lynette.anear@nhs.net. Alternatively, find out how the oral health promotion team supported National Smile Month in June this year, and more information about the Special Care Dental Services provided by Sussex Community NHS Trust on the Trust website.