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5 tips for keeping your teeth healthy at home

Good dental hygiene habits that can improve your oral health and save you money

With NHS dentists increasingly hard to access, and the rising costs of, well, nearly everything, it's worth taking stock of your oral hygiene routine and practising preventative dental care at home.

It doesn't need to be expensive or complicated, and it could save you money in the long run - and help keep you healthy.

We asked dental experts for tips on what's essential - and what isn't - plus for their take on common dental debates such as whether to brush before or after breakfast.

Find out what your daily dental routine should look like, and what you really need to spend on to look after your teeth properly. 

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1. Choose a fluoride toothpaste

Fluoride is essential for cavity protection, with long-term evidence to support its safety and effectiveness. 

Brushing properly with a fluoride toothpaste (at a concentration of 1,350 – 1,500ppm) is the most important thing you can do to maintain oral health.

There's an ever-expanding array of toothpastes available, but when we looked into toothpaste claims, we found that for most people, a cheap fluoride toothpaste will do the job.

You can usually find basic fluoride toothpaste - and in some cases cheap whitening, sensitive or gum health options - for around £1 at pharmacies, discount stores and supermarkets.

For the best protection, don't rinse your mouth out after brushing, just spit.

Choosing the right toothpaste - see our full guide to getting the best toothpaste and the ingredients that work for whitening, sensitivity and more

2. Clean between your teeth

Yes, it's boring, but cleaning the gaps between your teeth where food tends to get stuck and plaque can build up is important for your oral health.

You can use traditional floss, flossing picks, interdental brushes or even water spray flossers. The main thing is finding something that works for you and you'll stick to.

Some dentists say flossing has gone out of fashion in favour of interdental brushes, and indeed a Cochrane meta-review of available evidence found cleaning with interdental brushes was the most effective way to remove plaque between teeth to manage gingivitis. But, there's not enough evidence to say this is the clear better option in the long-term, and some people find interdental brushes more difficult to get between their teeth. 

As for when to floss, there's weak evidence that flossing or cleaning interdentally before brushing has some benefits vs after, but it's not decisive either way. Again, find what works best with your routine, so you'll stick to it.

3. Mouthwash isn't essential

Department of Health guidance on evidence-based preventative care recommends mouthwash only for patients at higher risk of tooth decay or as part of treatment for a diagnosed gum disease. 

It may help reduce bad breath, if that’s an issue for you (a tongue scraper can also help with this, but you don't need a dedicated tool - you can just use your toothbrush). 

Don’t use mouthwash just after brushing your teeth though, as you'll be getting much more concentrated fluoride from the toothpaste which mouthwash will simply wash away.

If you're trying to cut costs on your daily expenses, and don't have any particular gum or tooth issues, then you can skip the mouthwash.

Find out more about what's in your mouthwash

4. It doesn't matter if you brush before or after breakfast

Brushing before breakfast might have marginal benefits for protecting against erosion before your teeth are exposed to acid from what you eat.

There’s also a theoretical risk that brushing immediately after eating (when the tooth enamel might have softened slightly due to food consumption) could result in a small loss of enamel.

But, the evidence isn’t strong either way. The most important thing is to brush twice a day, and brushing last thing before bed reduces the risk of decay overnight. So don't worry too much about when you brush in the mornings, just make sure you fit it in.

5. Electric toothbrushes are better, but brushing properly is more important

Electric toothbrushes are generally shown to be more effective than manual ones at reducing plaque and gingivitis, but the correct brushing technique is key. 

Gently brush all surfaces of the teeth using small circular motions for about two minutes in total. Don't scrub furiously back and forth as you may actually damage your enamel.

As for bristles, harder bristles may be rough on the gums, but too soft might not do the job. A medium bristle will probably suit most people.

See our electric toothbrush reviews for the best brushes to buy.

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