We all know that brushing our teeth regularly is essential for preventing tooth decay and gum disease – but having good oral hygiene is even more important than you might think. 

Studies show that people with poor oral health are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease, dementia, and pulmonary problems. Plus, as we get older, we become more prone to receding gums and problems with saliva production, which can mean we’re more at risk of suffering from issues like tooth decay and gum disease.

So aside from brushing our teeth at least twice a day, what are some other ways we can improve our oral health and ensure our mouths stay clean and healthy? Here are nine ways to improve oral health.

1. Choose the right toothbrush

You can brush your teeth religiously, but if you’re using the wrong toothbrush you might be doing more harm than good. The harder the bristles on a toothbrush are, the easier it is to brush too vigorously, which can cause enamel loss and lead to receding gums. Soft-bristled toothbrushes are best for keeping your teeth clean and healthy.

If you don’t already use one, you should also consider investing in a good electric toothbrush, as these have been shown to reduce plaque and gingivitis (a mild form of gum disease) more than manual brushing. It’s also important to take good care of your toothbrush. It’s recommended that you replace your toothbrush at least every three months and always take time to rinse your brush carefully with water after brushing.

If you’re unsure what the best toothbrush option is for you, ask your dentist at your next check-up.

2. Floss once a day

We all know that flossing is important – but many of us don’t do it as much as we should. In fact, one survey found that 27% of adults lie to their dentist about how often they floss! Flossing isn’t only a way to remove food from between your teeth before it turns into plaque, it’s also a way to stimulate the gums, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation in the area.

To improve your oral health, you should try to make flossing as important as brushing, and do it at least once a day. You might want to try getting into the habit of flossing before you go to bed, so you can remove any food or plaque that builds up during the day.

To see advice on how to floss properly, check out this flossing guide by Oral B. If you suffer from sensitive gums or have had dental work done, you might want to consider using a water flosser instead. These shoot out a stream of water onto your teeth and gums to dislodge any small particles of food. You can buy water flossers from Amazon.

3. Eat the right foods

We all know the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” – but it applies to the dentist too. Eating apples is particularly good for you because they help clean your teeth and prevent decay, while the sweet taste can take the edge off any sugar cravings. Other crunchy vegetables, like carrots and celery, can also help keep your gums strong and stimulated.

Other foods that can help improve oral health are leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and rocket. This is because they help the mouth produce more nitrite-reducing bacteria that support a healthier oral microbiome. Plus, dark green leafy vegetables are also high in minerals like calcium, which your teeth need to stay strong.

4. Cut back on sugary and starchy foods

Cutting back on the amount of sugary foods you eat is one of the best things you can do to prevent tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when dental plaque turns sugars into acid, which can lead to problems like holes in the teeth and gum disease.

The World Health Organisation recommends that people limit their sugar intake to less than 10% of their daily calories. Other studies recommend that lowering this to 5% would further reduce the risk of tooth decay and other problems. One of the best ways to cut back on sugar is to limit the number of sugary drinks you consume. So if you drink fizzy drinks or lots of fruit juice, try to limit these – and be mindful of how much sugar you put in tea and coffee.

Starchy foods like crackers, bread, and pasta are also believed to cause tooth decay. Starch turns into sugar in our mouths, and the sugar is what the bacteria that causes tooth decay feeds on. Instead of eating lots of starchy foods, it’s better to fill up with lots of fibre-rich fruit and vegetables.

5. Drink more tap water

Drinking more water is also a great way to improve oral health. Not only is it the best drink for your overall health, and a great way to stay hydrated without sipping on sugar-packed fizzy drinks or juices – but tap water also often contains fluoride, which can help prevent tooth decay.

When water fluoridation is in the news it’s often seen as controversial, but the evidence shows that adding small levels of fluoride to water (around 1mg of fluoride per litre) is a safe and effective way to improve oral health.

In England, nearly 6 million people receive fluoridated water – and parts of the countries where water fluoridation schemes are in place include parts of the West Midlands, the North East, the East Midlands, Eastern England, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humber.

Experts recommend drinking water after every meal, as this can help wash away some of the harmful effects of sugary or acidic foods and drinks in between brushes.

6. Use mouthwash

Many people don’t use mouthwash because they’re just not fully aware of what it’s meant to do. Mouthwash isn’t only a way to keep your breath fresh, it’s also another way to protect against the bacteria that live in your mouth, as it cleans the crevices and soft tissues of the mouth that are often neglected when we brush our teeth.

There is evidence to show that mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, which is an antibacterial ingredient, can help reduce plaque and gingivitis. Mouthwashes containing specific essential oils are also effective, according to research. Plus, mouthwash can also reduce the amount of acid in our mouths and help remineralise our teeth.

Many types of mouthwash also contain fluoride, which can further help protect our teeth from decay and boost oral health – particularly if you live in an area where there isn’t a water fluoridation scheme in place. While mouthwash isn’t a substitute for brushing and flossing, it can help complement them. If you’re not sure which type of mouthwash to try, you should ask your dentist for advice.

7. Stop smoking

Aside from causing serious health issues like mouth and lung cancer, smoking can also have a detrimental effect on oral hygiene. It can stain your teeth and tongue and cause bad breath, and studies show that smokers are more at risk of infected gums, weakened teeth, and a reduced success rate for dental implant procedures.

Because smoking harms our immune system, it makes it hard for our bodies to heal tissues, including those in our mouths. The NHS cite smoking as a risk factor for gum disease, and experts say that smokers may experience slower healing after a dental procedure.

8. Don’t neglect your tongue

Just like your teeth and gums, your tongue can also harbour bacteria, which can cause bad breath and other oral health problems.

It’s really important to clean your tongue properly every time you brush your teeth, so you might want to consider buying a tongue scraper, or a toothbrush that has a scraper on the back. This will help get rid of bacteria on your tongue, keep your breath fresh, and boost your overall oral health.

9. Visit the dentist every six months

No matter how diligently you brush and floss your teeth, it’s still really important to see a dentist regularly. Many people only visit the dentist when there’s something wrong, but some of the most crucial aspects of dental health care are having regular teeth cleanings and routine x-rays. Prevention is always better than cure, and this way your dentist will be able to spot a potential issue before it escalates and becomes more serious.

When you visit the dentist, they’ll check for tooth decay, gum disease, mouth cancer, and other oral health issues. The hygienist will also clean and polish your teeth, as well as remove plaque and tartar. It’s recommended that you visit the dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups, but you should also make an appointment if you notice any of the following…

  • Red, sore, or swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums after brushing or flossing
  • Gums that start to pull away from your teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Sudden sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Continual bad breath or a strange taste in your mouth
  • Painful chewing

While many people view going to the dentist as a negative experience, it’s always better to visit regularly. Not only will it mean you’re able to spot any problems early on, but regular visits will help you become more comfortable with the idea of going to the dentist, and hopefully help you build up a trustworthy relationship with your dentist.

If you’re not currently registered with a dentist, then you can find your nearest one on the NHS website here.

Final thoughts…

Taking time to ensure you’re looking after your teeth, gums, and mouth is not only really important for your oral health but can have a significant impact on your overall health as well.

Brushing and flossing every day, eating lots of crunchy, high-fibre foods, cutting back on sugar, and not smoking are all good ways to avoid tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health issues.

You might also want to look into buying mouthwash containing fluoride, a decent electric toothbrush, or tools like a tongue scraper – though, if you’re unsure about anything, it’s best to speak to your dentist.

Are you currently taking steps to improve your oral health? Or do you have any other oral health tips you could offer to our readers? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.