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Poor diets and dental habits lead to tooth damage

Image: RNZ

Dental experts are calling for Kiwis to make dietary changes and reduce their consumption of food acids to protect their oral health following the release of new research which shows thousands of us have symptoms of preventable tooth damage.

A new study funded by Sensodyne into the oral health of New Zealanders identified some concerning dental hygiene practices, with almost half of respondents using dental floss less than once a week and a further tenth brushing once a week or less often, for the recommended two minutes.

The research also showed the frequency of oral health examinations was lower than recommended for many, with more than a third of respondents saying they visit their dentist or dental hygienist less frequently than every two years.

President of the New Zealand Dental Health Association – NZDHA - Anna Holyoake says the results of the research mirror what she is seeing in her practice and Kiwis need to understand they have an important role to play in maintaining their oral health in between dentist visits.

She says poor oral health can lead to bad breath, bleeding gums and tooth decay.

“There is a noticeable variation in dental hygiene practices across the country and a number of fundamentals that need to be improved if we are to see better oral health outcomes as a nation,” says Anna.

“Regular flossing is a key one. As is brushing twice a day for at least two minutes which will help keep more fluoride on the teeth.

“At the same time, visiting your dental health professional at least once a year to have your teeth assessed and cleaned is important.”

Anna says while the impact of sugar is generally well recognised, many of us are unaware of the impact of food acids on our oral health.

“Food acids are added to make flavours ‘sharper’, and may act as preservatives and antioxidants. These additives are found in a wide variety of food and beverages, even those without high levels of sugar such as herbal teas - which can be as acidic as soft drinks,” says Anna.

“Over consumption of acidic food and beverages can cause damage to tooth enamel.”

Anna says common food acids include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, folic acid, fumaric acid, and lactic acid.

The research found a fifth of respondents say the experience is so uncomfortable they avoid brushing their teeth as a result.

The study results also showed more than two-thirds of those who have experienced tooth pain will avoid hot or cold beverages and foods such as ice water or ice cream. Around half will stay out of the cold winter air and four in ten abstain from sugary foods.

More than a third said they don't use a soft toothbrush every time they clean their teeth, which Anna says can damage the teeth and gums.

“Brushing gently in a circular rather than scrubbing motion with a soft toothbrush helps to maintain good oral health,” says Anna.

Despite their own oral health care issues, Kiwis have no problem letting someone else know they have something stuck in their teeth according to the study.

The majority of New Zealanders would tell their family members if they had something in their teeth, whereas a smaller proportion would call out the more taboo issue of “bad breath”.

When it came to the people we work with however, Kiwis were more discreet with less than half prepared to tell their colleagues they had something wedged in their tooth and a tenth bringing their halitosis to their attention.

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