toothNot caring for your teeth could lead you to suffer - along with three out of four adults - from gum disease. September is National Oral Health month, and we mark the occasion with our DIY oral health routine.

With three out of four adults suffering from gum disease in the UK, coupled with the current shortage of NHS dentists, brushing, flossing and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash is vital to keep your teeth in top condition.

Oral hygiene at home

"Whether you've had professional treatments or not, caring for your smile at home is important," advises Dr Andrea Ubhi, Dentist of the Year 2005/6.

"First of all, you need to brush your teeth twice a day morning and night for around three minutes, using a fluoride toothpaste. Definitely don't scrub or you will wear the surface of your teeth away, so brush in circles or shuffles, or use an electric toothbrush which will do that for you - you should aim to clear away 100% of the plaque from your teeth twice a day for best results," says Dr Ubhi.

After brushing, you should clean between your teeth. Dr Ubhi recommends using either dental floss, dental tape, or interdental brushes once or twice a day to ensure that you are removing the maximum amount of food debris and plaque.

"The best way to floss is to get a length of floss or tape and roll it up between your two middle fingers, then use your thumb and your first finger as pincers so that you actually control it really well and don't slip and damage the gums.

"Between those two hands leave about two inches of floss free, pull it to one side and slide it slowly between your teeth, making a C-shape on each side of each tooth," she recommends.

"After flossing you need to be rinsing your teeth and gums with antibacterial mouthwash for around 30 seconds. Some clients ask me whether or not they should use alcoholic mouthwash but it really doesn't matter. For me it's about the efficiency of the mouthwash, and it is in contact with the teeth and gums for such a minimal amount of time that I don't think that it's a big deal - certainly not compared to drinking alcohol."

If you suffer from bleeding gums or gingivitis, Ubhi says one of the best treatments is the Chlorhexidine group of mouthwashes, although she warns that they should only be used for short periods of time.

"They can stain your teeth brown so you should only really be using them for a 30 day course, preferably just when your dentist prescribes it," she says.

Teeth trends

While no one wants a mouthful of stained yellow fangs, the dazzling smile beloved by minor celebrities is also on its way out.

"Many clients looking for a brighter smile are now requesting a more natural shade of white," Dr Ubhi says.

"Last year in the world of cosmetic dentistry, we witnessed a definite trend towards the LA power smile or, as it was termed in the States, 'West Coast White'. Celebrities like Halle Berry and Jessica Simpson are typical examples.

"We're now seeing a move away from this look as people opt for a more natural shade. In the US it's being described as 'East Coast White' in honour of the New York stars leading the trend - think Uma Thurman or Scarlet Johansson.

"But whichever look you opt for, the most important process for maintaining the brightness and whiteness of your smile actually takes place in your own bathroom rather than the dental surgery," she adds.

Some common myths

STOP FLOSSING IF YOUR GUMS BLEED: "If people start bleeding from their gums they often stop flossing or brushing because they think that it's bad for them," Dr Ubhi says. "In fact, bleeding gums means that you should actually do it more often, so make sure that your routine is really thorough and the bleeding should stop within a few days."

BRUSH YOUR TEETH BEFORE BREAKFAST: "Some people say that you should brush your teeth before breakfast to remove any bacteria that has built up overnight but, in my opinion, you're definitely better off brushing them after breakfast to make sure that you remove all of the debris," Dr Ubhi advises.

BRUSH YOUR TEETH STRAIGHT AFTER EATING: "The worst thing that you could do is to brush your teeth straight after eating or drinking something acidic such as citrus fruit or fruit juice, because the acid actually softens the top layer of your teeth and by brushing you are actually scrubbing that bit off. Always wait half an hour before brushing so that your teeth have remineralised," Dr Ubhi says.

GUM DISEASE UNCOVERED: Gum disease is caused by plaque and symptoms include swelling, soreness or infection of the gums and tissues supporting the teeth. If left untreated it can cause teeth to become loose and fall out.

Most people suffer from some form of gum disease, and it is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. However, although it can never be cured, the disease develops very slowly in most people, and it can be slowed down to a rate that should allow you to keep most of your teeth for life.

To prevent and treat gum disease, you need to make sure you remove all the plaque from your teeth every day by brushing, flossing and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash. If you begin to notice blood on your toothbrush when you clean your teeth, you should visit your dentist for a thorough check-up as soon as possible.

Smile statistics

  • Nearly half of all adults have moderate periodontal disease, with 5-10% of cases being severe.
  • Smoking is responsible for 50% of all cases of gum disease in the UK.
  • Nearly three-quarters of adults in the UK have visible plaque and calculus.
  • The average time spent brushing is 46 seconds.
  • Only 2-10% of patients floss regularly and effectively and most cannot or will not floss on a daily basis.