Adults and Teenagers

Leaflet: Looking after your teeth young people (pdf)

Leaflet: Looking after your teeth adults (pdf)

Dental Care is necessary at this stage to prevent decay or gum disease.


Toothbrushing is necessary to control plaque and prevent gum disease. (see toothbrushing) Effective toothbrushing twice a day with a small headed brush should remove plaque. Brushing last thing at night is very important. The brush should be a manual one with soft – medium, round end filaments, or a powered toothbrush with a rotating head that moves back and forth. The brush should be replaced every 3 months and each person should have their own to prevent infection being transferred. The recommended amount of toothpaste is a pea sized amount containing 1350 – 1500 parts per million. This is displayed on the toothpaste tube. The toothpaste should be spat out after without rinsing to avoid washing the fluoride away.

flossCleaning between the teeth is also important and floss ( see toothbrushing) or interdental brushes will help to clear the food that gets stuck between the teeth. If left, this food can cause decay.  These are best demonstrated by a dental professional.

If a teenager is wearing an orthodontic appliance (brace) it is tooth-decayimportant that both the brace and the mouth are kept as clean as possible to reduce the chance of tooth decay and gum disease.


The biggest cause of decay is the amount and frequency of sugar eaten. The more frequently sugary food and drinks are taken, the more acid is produced and the more damage to teeth occurs. Food and drinks containing sugar or acid should be limited to mealtimes. Try to eat healthy sugar-free snacks between meals. Many foods contain sugar, not just sweets and cakes. Cereals, plain biscuits and yogurts are also high in sugar content. Sugars should not be eaten more than four times a day.

Eat well plate
Eat well plate

Some food and drink labels can be misleading and it is important to identify sugars.  A general rule of thumb is that items listed ending in ‘ose’ are sugars for example, sucrose, glucose and fructose. These sugars may also damage teeth.

It is not realistic to expect people will never have sugary foods, but what is also important is how often they have them. Keeping these until after a meal or until a specific day each week is a good suggestion.

If someone is hungry between meals, fresh fruit or vegetables, breadsticks or wholemeal toast is a good alternative.

The eatwell plate (see picture) highlights the different types of food that make up our diet, and shows the proportions we should eat them in to have a well- balanced and healthy diet. For more information visit


Water and milk are the best drinks for teeth.

milkTooth decay can be caused by the number of times a day a person has sugary drinks. Fizzy drinks, fruit juices or fruit squashes are popular but should be limited to mealtimes. How long and often the sugar in the drink is in contact with the teeth influences the chance of decay occurring and so drinking times should be kept short. Frequent drinking of these drinks results in acid attacking the teeth often. Fruit juices and squashes can be diluted with water to reduce the harmful effect. Fizzy drinks can cause the wearing away of teeth (erosion) due to their high acid content, while milk shakes also contain high amounts of sugar.


In the teenage years the take up of smoking is higher than at any other age. Smoking is very harmful to the body as a whole and to the mouth in particular. On average a person who smokes lives about 7 – 13 years less than someone who doesn’t smoke.

The least harmful effect is that it can lead to stained teeth which the dentist or hygienist has to remove. Eventually the stain can become permanent. It’s not very good to look at. It is most often coupled with bad breath. Smoking can also cause decay by reducing the saliva flow. Any acid produced by bacteria from food will not get washed away as quickly.


Smoking can lead to gum disease by reducing the body’s ability to fight it. Smokers are 7 times more likely to have serious gum disease, with loss of the bone that holds the teeth in. The teeth can then drop out.

Smoking is about 7-10 times more likely to lead to oral (mouth) cancer or lung cancer.

On average a smoker burns about £8 per day if they smoke 20 cigarettes – that’s about £2900 per year.


canFrequent intake of alcohol can lead to damage to the teeth. Erosion (the wearing away by acid) on the outside of the teeth can occur leading to decay. The insides of the upper front teeth can wear away, leading to sensitive teeth. Vomiting, which often goes hand in hand, also causes erosion because of the acid. Drinking heavy quantities of alcohol (especially coupled with smoking) raises the risk of oral cancer.

Sexual Practices

Certain sexual practices, such as unprotected oral sex, have resulted in a rise in mouth cancer as well as other infections.


There are many drugs that can cause serious side effects that alter your oral health – both prescribed and illegal. They can lead to a dry mouth by reducing the saliva. When the mouth is dry, the teeth are more likely to decay and the soft tissues are easily inflamed, painful and prone to infection. If drugs are taken for a long time, the teeth become stained permanently.   It can also lead to unusual bleeding of the gums.


piercingPiercings are very common but have their own problems. They can lead to infection at the site of the piercing which can give pain. Nerve damage to the tongue or lip is another side-effect. The process of piercing itself can increase the risk of infections like hepatitis, HIV and tetanus. Piercings can also damage the teeth where pieces chip off.  A change in taste, or an allergic reaction to the metal, have also been known.

Visiting the dentist

As with any age group, it is important for everyone to visit the dentist at least once a year to check for any problems and help stop decay. The dentist can provide preventative treatment, as well as giving advice, but also look for disease with the gums and soft tissues round the mouth. The earlier problems are found, the better the result of treatment.

Leaflet: Looking after your teeth young people (pdf)

Leaflet: Looking after your teeth adults (pdf)

Last updated: March 19, 2014

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