Why should I use dental floss?
Which foods cause tooth decay?
Are pregnant women entitled to free NHS dental treatment?
Why should I use interdental brushes?
Why should I use dental floss?

You’re advised to use interdental brushes in addition to brushing as part of your daily oral health routine from the age of 12.

Some people may not have large enough spaces in between their teeth to use an interdental brush, so flossing can be a useful alternative.

Your dental team can show you how best to clean between your teeth.

How to use dental floss

Dental floss is a thin, soft thread. If you find floss hard to use, you can try dental tape, which is thicker.

Don’t be too aggressive with the floss: you risk harming your gums. The main action of flossing is a firm but gentle scraping of the tooth from the top down.

Your dental team can advise you about using dental floss.

Flossing tips

  • Break off about 45cm (18in) of floss, and wind some around one finger of each hand.
  • Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers, with about an inch of floss between them, leaving no slack.
  • Use a gentle “rocking” motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Don’t snap the floss into the gums.
  • When the floss reaches your gumline, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth until you feel resistance.
  • Hold the floss against the tooth. Gently scrape the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on the other side of the gap, along the side of the next tooth.
  • Don’t forget the back of your last tooth.
  • When flossing, keep to a regular pattern. Start at the top and work from left to right, then move to the bottom and again work from the left to right. This way you’re less likely to miss any teeth.

What if my gums bleed?

When you first start flossing, your gums may be tender and bleed a little. Carry on flossing your teeth as directed by your dental team and the bleeding should stop as your gums become healthier.

If you’re still getting regular bleeding after a few days, see your dental team. They can check if you’re flossing correctly.

What if I find flossing difficult?

If you find flossing difficult, your dental team can give you advice about other ways of cleaning between your teeth.

Which foods cause tooth decay?

Sugary food and drinks are one of the main causes of tooth decay.

Acid is produced when the bacteria in your mouth break down the sugar. The acid dissolves the tooth surface, which is the first stage of tooth decay.

Sugar in food and drinks

Some sugars occur naturally in food and drink, such as fruit, honey and milk. The naturally occurring sugar in dried fruit, such as raisins, dates and apricots can also contribute to tooth decay.

Other foods have sugar added to them by the manufacturer, which is sometimes called processed food. These may include:

  • cakes and biscuits
  • sweets and chocolate
  • flavoured milks and yoghurts
  • sugary breakfast cereals and cereal bars
  • jams
  • fruit canned in syrup
  • sauces and syrups, such as some pasta sauces, marinades and ketchup

Read about the top sources of added sugar in our diets.

Are pregnant women entitled to free NHS dental treatment?

Yes. You’re entitled to free NHS dental treatment if you’re pregnant when you start your treatment. To get free NHS dental treatment, you must have:

Applying for a maternity exemption certificate

You can apply for a maternity exemption certificate using the application form FW8, available from your midwife, GP or health visitor. They will also need to sign the form.

The certificate is valid from one month before the date that the application is received until:

  • 12 months after the expected date of the baby’s birth
  • if the baby has already been born, 12 months after their date of birth

After your baby is born

You’re also entitled to free NHS dental treatment for 12 months after your baby is born. To prove your entitlement, you will need to show:

  • a valid maternity exemption certificate
  • a notification of birth form – the midwife who delivers your baby will give you this form
  • your baby’s birth certificate

If you did not apply for a maternity exemption certificate while you were pregnant, you can still apply at any time during the 12 months after your baby is born.

Loss of pregnancy

If you lose your baby after the 24th week of your pregnancy (your baby is stillborn), you will continue to be entitled to free NHS dental treatment for 12 months.

To prove your entitlement, you will need to show the stillbirth certificate issued by your local registrar of births, marriages and deaths.

Why should I use interdental brushes?

Interdental brushes help to prevent gum disease by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth.

They have small bristled heads designed to clean between your teeth, and they come in different widths to suit the sizes of the gaps.

You can buy them from pharmacies and in the supermarket.

How to use interdental brushes

  • aim to clean your teeth with interdental brushes once a day
  • use a brush appropriate for the size of the space between your teeth – you may need to use more than one size
  • insert the brush gently between your teeth, and try a smaller brush size if it feels too tight – don’t try to force the brush into the space
  • work round the whole of your mouth so you don’t miss any of the spaces

What if my gums bleed?

When you first start using interdental brushes, your gums may be tender and bleed a little as you start to get rid of any plaque build-up. Carry on using the brushes, and the bleeding should reduce as your gums become healthier.

If you’re still getting bleeding after a few days, get advice from your dentist. They can check if you’re using the interdental brushes correctly.

What if I find it difficult to use interdental brushes?

If you find it difficult to use interdental brushes, get advice from your dentist or dental hygienist.

They can show you how to use the brushes and give you advice about other ways to clean between your teeth, such as dental floss (see Why should I use dental floss?). However, some people find using dental floss more difficult.

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