12 Common
Health Conditions

Dental Problems and Keeping Your Teeth and Gums Healthy

Listen to this page

About Dental Problems

It is important to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Dental problems are problems with your teeth and gums. This can cause you pain and make it hard to eat.

Plaque is a substance which forms on your teeth.

When you eat or drink sugary things, the plaque on your teeth produces acid. This acid attacks your teeth. It can cause:

  • Tooth decay – when your teeth go bad.

  • Dental caries – holes in the teeth.

  • Gum disease – when the gums become swollen, sore or infected.

  • Dental abscesses – collections of pus on your teeth or gums.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dental Problems?

If you have tooth decay you might not have any pain.

If you have dental caries (holes in your teeth) you might have:

  • Toothache

  • Pain when you eat or drink hot or cold foods.

  • Grey, brown or black spots on your teeth.

  • Bad breath.

  • A nasty taste in your mouth.

Keeping Your Teeth And Gums Healthy

To help prevent problems, it is important to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

  • Brush your teeth

Brushing your teeth stops plaque building up.

Brush your teeth twice a day – once before you got to bed at night and at 1 other time during the day.

Brush your teeth for about 2 minutes. You could try using the Brush DJ app on your mobile phone – this plays 2 minutes of music to help you to brush your teeth for the right amount of time.

You can use an electric or regular toothbrush.

Use toothpaste with fluoride in it.

Try to make sure you brush every part of your teeth.

Don’t rinse with water straight after brushing. This washes away the fluoride in the toothpaste which keeps your teeth healthy.

  • Floss or brush between your teeth

Floss is a thin, soft thread for cleaning between your teeth.

An interdental brush is a small brush for cleaning between your teeth.

You should use floss or an interdental brush once every day before you brush your teeth.

This will remove food and plaque stuck between your teeth.

To use floss, break off about 45cm of floss and wind the ends around a finger of each hand. Hold it tightly and slip the floss gently between your teeth.

Gently scrape the side of the tooth moving the floss away from the gum. Do this in all the gaps between your teeth, and at the back of your last tooth.

To use an interdental brush, make sure you get one the right size for the space between your teeth. Put the brush gently between your teeth – if it feels too tight try a smaller brush. Work around your mouth so you don’t miss any of the spaces.

Your dentist can show you how to do this.

  • Lead a healthy lifestyle

Having a healthy lifestyle can help you to keep your teeth healthy.

Sugary food and drinks are one of the main causes of tooth decay. Try to eat less sugary foods and drinks.

Sugary foods are things like sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals jams and ice cream.

Sugary drinks include soft drinks, juices, fizzy drinks, milky drinks like milkshakes, and alcohol.

Eat a healthy diet.

Give up smoking (if you smoke).

Don’t drink too much alcohol.

  • Have regular check-ups at the dentist

Go for a regular check-up at the dentist.

Your dentist will tell you how often you need to go. About once every 6 months is usual.

The earlier the dentist finds a problem with your teeth, the easier it is to treat it.

  • Don’t put off having dental treatment

If you need dental treatment do not put it off – the problem can get worse.

Treatment And Care For Dental Problems

Treatment for dental problems will depend on how long you have had the problem, and how bad it has got.

Treatment can include:

  • Having a gel, varnish or paste that has fluoride in it put on your teeth – this helps them get stronger.

  • Taking away the decay (the bad bit of the tooth) – it is then filled with a filling, or a crown is put on top of the tooth.

  • A root canal – where the infection is taken out of the roots of the tooth.

  • Taking the tooth out – missing teeth can be replaced with false teeth called dentures or bridges.

If you have a regular check-up, the dentist will spot any problems and arrange treatment.

If you need to see a dentist quickly because you are in pain, you can ask for an ‘emergency appointment’.

Your usual dentist may be able to give you an emergency appointment.

If you need to find a dentist in an emergency call 111 to speak to an NHS advisor or visit NHS 111 online.

Paying for dental treatment

You can get dental treatment through the NHS. The NHS will provide treatment to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy and do not cause you pain.

Many people have to pay for this treatment.

You don’t have to pay for this treatment if:

  • You are under 18, or under 19 in full-time education.

  • You are pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months.

  • You are being treated in hospital by an NHS dentist.

  • You are on low-income benefits, or are aged under 20 and are dependent on someone who gets low income benefits.

Your dentist will ask you to show proof that you don’t need to pay. You will need to sign a form.

Sometimes people want dental treatment to make their teeth look better. The NHS will not usually provide this treatment. You could choose to pay a dentist to do this.

Complaints about dental treatment

If you are unhappy with any of your treatment you can make a complaint.

Speak to the practice manager at your dentist surgery.

Or you can contact NHS England:

By telephone: 0300 311 22 33

Go back one page

Go to next page