Dr Dawn Harper has joined forces with DenTek again to shine a spotlight on the importance of good oral health and general healthcare.
We caught up with her to talk about the effect poor oral health habits can have on children's teeth and the impact it can have on other areas of the body- not just the mouth.
Please can you tell us a little bit about your new campaign with DenTek?
This is the second year I have been working with DenTek. It's about raising the importance of oral health and cleaning teeth properly.
We have seen a horrible rise in tooth decay, but it's also about the greater impact it can have on your health.
What we really want people to know is that they should be brushing their teeth twice a day but not just brushing. They should also be using interdental cleansing.
If you just brush your teeth, it's a little bit like having a shower and only showering 65% of your body- you are missing out bits. A toothbrush can't get to their areas between the teeth. If we don't clean there- it allows a build-up of bacteria and that will lead to problems with our teeth, our gums and our overall health.
Why was it so important to you to get involved for a second year running?
I was really keen to do it because I thought the campaign was great last year. Last time we were talking about going beyond brushing and this year it's a natural extension.
We are talking about children's oral health- we are always targeting that. We know that is an increasing problem. It seemed a logical thing for me to still be with them. I was thrilled that they asked me because I think it's a really good campaign and a very important message. It was a no-brainer for me when they asked me if I wanted to do some more. I said 'yes please!'
Some people brush once a day, some skip days, many don't floss so why do you think that oral hygiene is often neglected, more so than other areas of our health?
I think people don't appreciate how important it is. That is what this campaign is all about.
I guess people know that if they don't look after their teeth they are more likely to have dental problems but they don't necessarily know about the further implications to their overall health.
I think also we are all busy and particularly young people may feel that they are invincible. We are talking about 2 minutes a day- it's not a huge commitment and it is something that people really need to take seriously.
What is the ideal oral hygiene routine that everyone should be doing as a minimum?
I would like to see people brushing twice a day and flossing or using some kind of interdental cleanser once a day.
Why is brushing only 65% of the job done?
I think most people are just brushing and even the very good electric toothbrushes can't get right into those spaces between the teeth.
Sometimes when you're using an interdental cleaner or a floss people are often quite surprised by what comes out. When you start using any sort of interdental cleanser your gums might bleed a bit. That is because the bacteria has already got in there and the gums are unhealthy. If you get into the habit, you should find that your gums are healthier, you are not getting that bleeding and that's a really good thing. I think people just don't know- they assume a toothbrush is good enough and it's not.
What are some other health implications of not looking after our teeth and gums?
There are lots. If you're not looking after your teeth properly you can get a build-up of food debris and bacteria around the teeth. Obviously that is going to have an influence on the health of your teeth and the health of your gums but it can also be linked to heart disease. The bacteria in your mouth can lead to inflammation and narrowing of the arteries.
A doctor friend of mine says he can almost predict which of his patients have heart disease just by looking at their mouths because there is such a strong correlation.
There is also an increased risk of lung disease because bacteria can be inhaled into the lungs and cause inflammation and infection.
People need to be mindful of that- particularly in smokers- this is a classic example. Smoking is really bad for your teeth anyway- you are more prone to lung disease. This combined with the bacteria in your mouth can makes the lungs worse.
There is also a theory that is not proven yet but there is a theory that poor dental hygiene and a build-up of bacteria in your mouth could be linked to Alzheimer's. There is work being done in that field at the moment.
These are things that people really aren't aware of. Once you start looking at the greater implications on your overall health by not looking after your teeth I think that would be quite a good incentive for most people to take this seriously.
The other one is in pregnant women. The reason pregnant women are given free dental care while they are pregnant and for the year after their child is born is because having poor oral hygiene can be linked to having a low weight or premature baby.
That is why we offer free dental care so women who are not going to the dentist quite as often as they should can go. If you offer them a free appointment while they are pregnant they are more likely to go and it's important that they do.
Why do you think there has been such an increase in children with rotting teeth- why now more than years ago what's been the major change?
The World Health Organisation has come out and said we really need to watch our sugar intake and have reduced recommendations for sugar intake from 10% of our total intake to 5%.
There is no doubt that children today are eating more sugar than kids in generations before them. They are probably also eating sugar at lots of different episodes. What we know it's not the total exposure to sugar but the number of times your teeth are exposed to sugar.
If a child is having a fizzy drink (and they are some of the world culprits because they are loaded with sugar), then having a sugary snack and sweeteners at meal times, their teeth are being exposed to sugar throughout the course of the day. They are getting more sugar exposure.
There is something like 26,000 primary school children who have been treated for tooth decay just in the last year. This indicates that it is a serious problem. We have seen a significant increase in junior schoolchildren going to A and E with rotten teeth.
Dentists are telling us that they are removing all milk teeth in some instances from young children because of decay.
I think there is sometimes a feeling that milk teeth aren't that important because it's the adult teeth that are the important ones. We need the milk teeth to guide the passage for the adult teeth to come through. If milk teeth become very decayed- the infection can do down into the jaw which obviously then affects the adult teeth.
It's a really serious problem and one we need to tackle. I always say that kids will always do as you do before they will do what you say.
When my kids were little I would brush my teeth in front of the children so they could see me doing it too; rather than telling them to.
Children need to be supervised even if they are brushing their teeth. They need to be supervised probably up until the age of seven, for most kids, because they won't be doing it properly. You probably need to give them a hand.
I also think we need to get the interdental cleanding message over to children from a very young age.
If I am honest, it's something I got into as an adult and didn't do it as a child. Mum and dad were lovely but it's not something that they thought of.
Funnily enough, I can remember my father always using dental floss, but they never thought to get me to. I think as soon as your children's teeth are starting to get closer together it's a good idea to get them to use interdental cleansers.
You can get ones specifically designed for children that make it more fun. If you get children who enjoy it, make it a habit and get it instilled in them as young kids- that habit will be for life.
What are the foods and drinks to avoid if we want to protect our oral heath as best as we possibly can?
I think we really just need to watch our sugar intake. There are obvious sugars in our diet- fizzy drinks, chocolate and sweets. There are also other sugars- sugars in fruit juices. They recommend limiting children to just 150ml of fruit juice per day- there is quite a lot of sugar in that.
There are also many hidden sugars in processed foods and sauces and so on. It's a good idea to get into the habit of just, looking at labels. Once you do you will start to be quite surprised at just how much sugar we do consume.
What is next for you?
I have just filmed an exciting and challenging project, which I am not allowed to talk to you about yet. It will be on Channel 4 in September.
I have just finished my tenth series of Dr Dawn's Guides. The next two to come out are Dr Dawn's Guide to Your Baby's First Fear and Dr Dawn's Guide to Toddler's Health. Both of which include chapter on dental and oral hygiene and teething because I think it's so important.
We are waiting to hear about Embarrassing Bodies. I am still doing my stuff with LBC Radio, Talk Radio and This Morning so I'm not retiring just yet!
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