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Dentist at Bupa Dental Care smiling and chatting with patient

Questions you’ve always wanted to ask your dentist

Ever wanted to know whether mouthwash really works? How you can avoid bad breath? If teeth conditions are hereditary? We spoke to Robbie Thompson, a dentist at Bupa Dental Care Downend, Bristol, who answered some of the most common questions you’ve always wanted to ask your dentist.

1. What do most people get wrong with regards to oral health?

Most people brush their teeth fairly well but fail to get the bits in between the teeth. This means you miss build-up of food particles and plaque which can accumulate there. A normal toothbrush will effectively clean the exposed surfaces of the teeth, but you need to floss or use interdental brushes to clean between the teeth and the gums. If you find flossing difficult, interdental brushes make it easier as they come in different sizes to suit different teeth.

The other common issue is people not brushing for long enough. Their technique is usually fine, but very few people actually keep brushing for two minutes. This is where electric toothbrushes can be helpful because they vibrate to let you know when the two minutes is up.

2. Are dental decay issues hereditary?

In the majority of cases I’ve seen, tooth decay is not hereditary. And this is a common misconception.

It’s often that lifestyle habits, including dental habits are passed down from parents to children. If a parent has suffered a lot of tooth decay, this is likely to be due to lifestyle factors such as a diet that’s high in sugar. And in this scenario their children are more likely to also eat a high-sugar diet and then suffer tooth decay themselves.

3. What’s the difference between NHS and private dental care?

NHS dental care provides essential maintenance for a healthy mouth. Private dental care goes a step further by offering advice, guidance and treatment options for both a healthy and confident smile.

There are many services that aren’t available on the NHS, particularly cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening, cosmetic bonding and white fillings. Private consultations also tend to be longer and you get access to more flexible appointment times.

4. How can I get whiter teeth?

Cleaner and possibly, whiter teeth can be achieved with a professional clean and polish during your regular check-up, or at a hygienist appointment. But, the only way to guarantee significantly whiter teeth is with a professional whitening treatment.

Professional whitening treatments require an initial consultation with a dentist to ensure your teeth are suitable. Whitening can be done using a home treatment kit or in practice. The results of either will be greatly improved by avoiding food and drinks which stain your teeth, like coffee, red wine and curry.

5. Are over-the-counter teeth whitening kits safe?

Whitening kits bought in high street shops have to meet EU regulations to be sold, so they are safe to use. However, they contain very low concentrations of bleach, meaning they have very little effect.

Having your teeth whitened by a registered dentist means treatment is effective and safe with the right concentrations of bleach needed to have a noticeable impact. Professional whitening products used by dentists are also made to accommodate different patients’ needs.

6. Does whitening toothpaste actually work?

Whitening toothpaste does have some superficial effect in that it can remove some surface stains, but it’s best to talk to your dentist about the most effective options, especially if the staining is deeper in your teeth.

7. What causes tooth sensitivity?

There are many potential reasons for sensitive teeth, but the most common cause is a hole in a tooth which needs filling, or if you have gum recession. The latter means the gum has shrunk back, exposing the root of the tooth. This can be a sign of gum disease or over- brushing. Speak to your dentist if you have sensitive teeth to see what they can recommend.

8. Do you recommend using mouthwash?

Personally? No. To look after your teeth properly, you need to remove the build-up of bacteria, or plaque, on and between the teeth and gum line. That requires a toothbrush and an interdental brush or floss.

Mouthwash kills surface bacteria in the short-term but won’t actually get rid of the bacteria that’s accumulating between the teeth and gumline.

9. What’s the most complex case you’ve ever worked on and what was involved?

We had a gentleman who suffered from teeth grinding and had a very high amount of acid in his diet from fizzy drinks. He ground all his teeth down, but he wasn’t aware of it because he wasn’t suffering any pain. It was just evident because his teeth were getting smaller and smaller. We had to build all the teeth back up from scratch using white filling material. The result was a natural-looking smile, I was proud of the work.

10. Does what you eat when you’re pregnant affect your baby’s future teeth?

In most diets there will be no impact. A mother eating a high-sugar diet won’t have any negative impact on the baby’s teeth. But, of course, the mother does need to be eating enough nutrients, including calcium, to enable the baby’s teeth to develop properly.

11. Are dairy products good for your teeth?

Yes. After eating, the bacteria in your mouth produces acid as a by-product of breaking down the food particles. If you eat dairy products like cheese and yoghurt at the end of a meal, they help neutralise the acid in your mouth, protecting your teeth against decay.

12. Is sugar-free chewing gum good for your teeth?

Yes. If you chew sugar-free gum after a meal it helps encourage saliva production. Saliva production has a neutralising effect on the acid in your mouth and acts as a natural mouthwash, flushing away remaining food particles.

13. What’s the worst thing you can eat or drink for your teeth?

Fizzy drinks. Not only are they packed with sugar, but they also contain lots of acid, so there is a cumulative impact of it both eroding and rotting your teeth. The other problem is that acid levels tend to remain high in the mouth for about 20 minutes after eating or drinking before falling to healthy levels.

When people have a fizzy drink, they often sip on it sporadically throughout the day meaning they will have high acid levels in the mouth for several hours.

14. How can you avoid bad breath?

The best way to avoid bad breath is by simply maintaining good oral health. Make sure you get any plaque off the teeth and gums and give your tongue a scrub to remove any bacteria there too. Ensuring you eat breakfast also helps, as bad breath can come from stomach acid, which is produced when you have an empty stomach.

15. If you could change one thing in the industry, what would it be?

We need to focus more on preventative dental care rather than treatment of dental problems. This requires better education from a young age and improving people’s understanding of how to look after their teeth and what not to eat and drink.

I’d like all children to see the dentist by the time they reach one year old, so we can start instilling healthy habits in kids and parents as early as possible. This would make a huge difference.

16. If you weren’t a dentist, what else would you be?

I would be a beach lifeguard for the RNLI. I worked as a beach lifeguard on Barry Island while I was a student and loved it.

Regular dental check-ups are essential for your oral health

Bupa Dental Care is a leading provider of both NHS and private dental services and has over 350 practices across the UK. We provide a range of treatments and services for all the family, from regular check-ups and emergency appointments to more complex dentistry.

Use the search bar below to find your nearest Bupa Dental Care practice.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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