World Oral Health Day: 10 most common mistakes to avoid for healthy teeth

Man brushing teeth to represent oral health. (Getty Images)
It's time to go back to the basics if you want to improve your oral health. (Getty Images)

'Be Proud Of Your Mouth' is the theme for this year's World Oral Health Day on 20 March.

But how can we be sure our dental hygiene – often linked to the quality of our overall health – is at its best when many of us are guilty of thinking brushing twice a day is enough? Not to mention the one in five Brits who were found last year to reach for their toothbrush just once daily...

"Oral health is super important, but sometimes we make mistakes without even realising it," says clinical director and lead dentist at Paste Dental, Dr Alan Clarke.

So, if you feel like you could be doing more to look after your teeth, it's probably best to look at where you're going wrong in the first place.

Read more: Is it possible to stop red wine staining your teeth?

10 most common oral health mistakes

Woman looking in the mirror and flossing her teeth. (Getty Images)
How many times have you picked up the floss this week? (Getty Images)

1. Brushing too hard

Of course, we all want to ensure we remove the plaque from our teeth.

"But brushing too hard can actually do more harm than good, causing enamel abrasion leading to sensitivity," says Dr Clarke, who urges us to be gentle.

Small-headed toothbrushes with soft bristles are great options if you want to be kind to the gums.

2. Not flossing

How often do you do this, if ever?

"Flossing may seem like a hassle, but it's important for getting rid of those pesky food particles between your teeth," Dr Clarke points out. "This is a total game changer in your oral hygiene routine – it's as important as brushing."

Flossing should start early in life and be carried out daily, according to the NHS. It will remove any leftover food and plaque from your teeth and prevent gum disease. A win win.

Read more: Turkey teeth: What is the worrying dental trend sending Brits abroad?

3. Skipping the dentist

Not many of us love taking a trip to the dentist, "but regular check-ups are crucial for maintaining good oral health," says Dr Clarke.

"We are here to advise, educate and give you all the data you need to make informed choices about your health."

Going every six months may be a good average, but some people may need to go more and others less depending on their situation. Ask your dentist what's right for you.

An orthodontist showing a patient an x-ray of her teeth while working with her assistant in a modern dental surgery.
Regular trips to the dentist will help catch and prevent any complications. (Getty Images)

4. Using the wrong toothpaste

"Not all toothpaste is created equal, so make sure you're using one that's right for you," says Dr Clarke. "Whether you need fluoride, sensitivity relief, or whitening, there's a toothpaste out there for everyone."

He recommends chatting to your dentist and planning a bespoke regime, tailored specifically to you.

5. Not brushing long enough

Yes, you might be in a rush, but committing to the recommended two minutes of brushing each time will only make it worth your while.

"Set a timer or sing your favourite song to make sure you're brushing for the full time," suggests Dr Clarke.

6. Ignoring tooth grinding

This could also be a sign of something else going on.

Dr Clarke emphasises, "Often linked to airway obstruction, either through nasal incompetence, a small mouth, a sleep disorder, or the legacy of tooth movement in the past, don’t ignore tooth grinding!

"A comprehensive assessment is key in order to help address the root cause. You may also find the cause of migraines, neck pain and many other health issues at the same time!"

TMD and TMJ healthcare concept: Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder. Asia man hand on cheek face as suffering from facial pain, mumps or toothache
Symptoms may include a painful jaw, face, neck and shoulder, increased sensitivity, broken fillings, headaches, earache, and disturbed sleep. (Getty Images)

7. Using the wrong toothbrush

While there's no need to get too obsessed with this one, Dr Clarke says, "Did you know there are different types of toothbrushes for different needs? Whether you prefer a manual or electric toothbrush, make sure you're using one that's comfortable and effective for you."

For most adults, a toothbrush with a small head and a compact, angled arrangement of long and short round-end bristles will do the trick, according to the NHS. Medium or soft bristles are best for most people.

If you're using an electric brush, one with an oscillating or rotating head may work better than a manual toothbrush. Speak to your dentist about what's best.

8. Treating sugar like a bad word

"Instead, it's all about understanding acid attacks on your teeth! Sugar frequency over a prolonged time can cause an acidic pH which can be more damaging than the amount of sugar itself!" says Dr Clarke.

So, sugar isn't actually the cause of tooth decay, acid is. When you eat something with sugar, the natural bacteria in your mouth breaks it down, producing acid. When your mouth "moves to an acidic pH" it "stays like this after every sugar exposure for about 40 minutes, until it neutralises to a neutral pH of 7".

So, it might be wise to keep any sugar intake to meal times and stay within the recommended amount to limit a constant supply of acid, and protect your tooth enamel.

As a general guide, adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars (found in sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some fizzy drinks and juice drinks) a day (roughly seven sugar cubes), children aged seven to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (six sugar cubes), and kids aged four to six should have no more than 19g a day (five sugar cubes).

While there's no guideline limit for those under four, it's recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it.

Sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetables are less likely to cause tooth decay, because they're contained within the structure. Be aware, though, that this is different when blended, and the sugars are released.

White sand sugar and cube sugar on dark background.
Having sugar less often is more important than not having it at all. (Getty Images)

Read more: Eye health: Sleeping in make-up and other bad habits that could cause harm

9. Assuming vaping won't harm your teeth

"While less damaging than smoking, vaping is not without its risks! Take care and do your research before you become a long-term vaper, surrounding yourself in a cloud of fruity smoke," urges Dr Clarke.

"Firstly, vaping leads to a dry mouth by reducing the salivary flow to the oral tissues. Saliva is vital in neutralising the acids and acidic conditions after consuming food and acts to wash away harmful bacteria in the mouth," he explains. "This can subsequently increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease and indeed bad breath!"

This 'bad breath', Dr Clarke specifies, is not one perfumed from the often fruity/candy floss flavoured vape cloud, but from the poor state of your teeth and gums.

"While e-cigarettes have removed many of the harmful chemicals from traditional cigarettes, nicotine in them causes the blood vessels in the gums to narrow, which reduces the amount of blood flow to the delicate oral tissues," he adds.

"This in-turn affects the natural ability of the mouth to fight infections and replenish connective tissue leading to a higher risk of gum disease and tooth loss.

"I should also mention that the presence of gum disease is linked to heart disease, an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, stroke and various cancers. Research demonstrates that men with a history of gum disease are 14% more likely to develop cancer than men with healthy gums."

Plus, vaping exposes your teeth to chemicals like formaldehyde, acrolein and acetaldehyde. "These chemicals can erode tooth enamel, cause tooth sensitivity and even dentine tooth decay. Propylene glycol, when inhaled, breaks down into acids and propionaldehyde, irritating soft tissues and further exacerbating the dry mouth, leading to cavities and gum disease."

10. Downing hot water and lemon

"Be careful with drinks you assume are super healthy. Acid attacks are very common from this sort of drink, leading to tooth translucency, enamel wear and hypersensitivity," says Dr Clarke.

"Because lemons contain a high amount of citric acid, they have an acidic pH.

"Lemon juice has a pH between two and three, which means it's 10,000-100,000 times more acidic than water!"

Consider limiting how often you have it, and when you do, drink through a straw, and rinse your mouth afterwards.

Watch: What does a good oral health regime look like?