The Dentist Magazine.

The five most common oral health problems

Published: 26/06/2017

We use it to speak, eat, drink and breathe; it can also have an impact on our friendships, relationships and career.

The health of our mouth plays such an important role in our everyday lives and it’s often one of the first things that people notice about us – but what happens when something goes wrong?

As part of the charity campaign National Smile Month, its organisers, the Oral Health Foundation, and sponsors Oral-B have uncovered the five most common oral health problems in the United Kingdom, and are offering advice on how we can steer clear of them.

Toothache

Perhaps unsurprisingly, toothache is our most common oral health problem, being an issue for almost nine in ten Brits (88 per cent).

Uchenna Okoye, smile ambassador for Oral-B, says, “Most cases of toothache are caused by tooth decay. After we eat or drink anything containing sugar, the enamel and dentine of a tooth becomes softened by an acid attack. These acids attack the teeth and start to soften and dissolve the enamel. Over time, this acid can cause holes in the teeth which means that the nerve-endings underneath become exposed. It is this that causes us to experience pain.”

The best way to avoid toothache is simply to brush our teeth for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. This will help to remove the plaque acid which attacks the teeth. 

Uchenna added, “Personally, I use Oral-B Pro-Expert toothpaste, and this is the product I recommend to my patients. It contains a unique stannous fluoride complex, which makes teeth more resistant to daily acids and damage by forming a long-lasting protective shield on the enamel surfaces. It also helps fight and inhibit the bacteria that causes plaque to build-up, as well as bad breath.”

It is also important that we don’t rinse after brushing so that we can give the protective fluoride the best chance to do its job.

Ulcers

Mouth ulcers are next on the list of bugbears, being a problem for almost three in every four of us (70 per cent). Usually a single mouth ulcer is due to damage caused by biting the cheek or tongue, or by sharp teeth, brushing or poorly fitting dentures. Any ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks should be checked by our dentist as it may be an early sign of mouth cancer.

“Avoiding mouth ulcers can be as easy as having regular visits to your dentist,” adds Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation.

“A dentist or dental hygienist will be able to check for anything in the mouth which may cause an ulcer and deal with it before it becomes a problem. Eating a good diet, which is rich in vitamins A, C and E and includes foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, is also a good way to stay ulcer free.”

Bleeding gums

Almost six out of ten Brits say they suffer from bleeding gums (58 per cent). There are many causes of bleeding gums, the main being gum disease. Gum disease is a very serious condition which shows as swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. Without treatment, gum disease often leads to losing teeth and has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Nigel says, “To prevent and treat gum disease, we need to make sure we remove all the bacteria from our teeth every day by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, be sure to clean between our teeth every day too. The best way to do this is to use interdental brushes.

“One other way to help avoid gum disease is to ensure we visit our dental team regularly, as often as they recommend, ensuring we get checked out for any early warning signs thoroughly.”

Coldsores

Almost half of us have had a cold sore at some point in our life (45 per cent).

A cold sore is a small, painful, raised area of small, fluid-filled blisters. They usually happen where the lip joins the surrounding skin; they are painful and dry up to make a yellow crust which gradually heals in five to seven days.

“Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and many of us pick up in childhood or early adulthood,” adds Nigel.

“Cold sores usually appear when we are ‘run down' or sick. They are also very infectious and can be passed on when we come into close contact with someone, such as through kissing.”

Once the cold sore virus has been contracted it stays with us for life and there is little we can do to avoid picking them up. How often the cold sore appears varies from person-to-person, however, if sunlight seems to bring on a cold sore, it is sensible to put sunblock on the lips when going out in the sun.

Bad breath

Finally, in our list of the most common oral health problems is bad breath, also called halitosis, which is common complaint for at least one in four Brits (24 per cent).

Nigel says, “As many of us know, bad breath can be quite unpleasant but many people who suffer from it are often completely unaware they have it.

“A good test to check for bad breath is to lick the inside of our wrist and sniff – if the smell is bad, we can be fairly sure that our breath is too.”

Persistent bad breath is usually caused by the smelly gases released by the bacteria that coat our teeth, gums and tongue. Also, bits of food that get caught between the teeth and on the tongue will rot and can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell. Strong foods like garlic, coffee and onions can add to the problem. One of the early warning signs of gum disease is that we always have bad breath or a bad taste in our mouth.

“To keep breath fresh, it is important that we keep our mouth clean. The key to this is to brush our teeth and gums last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste. Don't forget to brush the tongue as well, or use a tongue scraper,” adds Nigel.

“It also helps if we cut down on how often we have sugary food and drinks, while regular trips to the dentist can also help identify any underlying factor causing bad breath. Chewing sugar-free gum is also a great way of alleviating bad breath, especially if it is being caused by a dry mouth.”

National Smile Month is a charity campaign which brings together thousands of members of the public, communities, groups and dental and health professionals in a bid to spread awareness of the importance of good oral health across Britain. 

The campaigns organiser, the Oral Health Foundation, along with Platinum Sponsors Oral-B, and further support from Wrigley’s Extra, Polo Sugar Free, Philips and Regenerate, are looking to take the important messages of oral health to more people than ever so that we can take control of our own oral health.

If you wish to discuss any of these problems or have any other oral health questions the Oral Health Foundation offers expert, impartial and free advice through their Dental Helpline.

The Dental Helpline is available by telephone on 017888 539 780 or email at helpline@dentalhealth.org

For more information on National Smile Month visit www.smilemonth.org