Why healthy teeth are good for your health

Our pearly whites can reveal a lot about our health. Jo Stanley gets the lowdown on why healthy teeth are crucial at every age – and how to look after them.

Three in 10 Australians have untreated tooth decay, with the cost of treating damaged teeth estimated at $5 billion a year.

From the emergence of our first tooth buds to our ageing years, our pearly whites are front and centre.

Why we need teeth

Human teeth break down food by cutting and crushing it in preparation for swallowing and digesting.

Teeth are also an important factor in speech pronunciation and in shaping our faces.

“While most people take them for granted, when you think about it, our relationship with our teeth is a lifelong partnership,” Jo says.

Teeth start growing before you’re even born

Professor David Manton, the Elsdon Storey Chair of Child Dental Health at Melbourne University says teeth actually start to form two months after conception.

“They start erupting about six months of age and baby teeth are extremely important,” he says.

“When they’re allowed to decline in health, especially when they’re allowed to decay, that can lead to serious infections in children, and in the worse cases can end in death.”

dental hygiene

How to look after baby teeth

“At six months of age all those tiny ivories need is a good scrub with a face cloth,” Jo says.

“And then at 12 months you can start using a soft brush, starting with toddlers’ toothpaste at 18 months.”

When we bid our baby teeth goodbye, it’s on to the adult years.

Growing permanent teeth

By age 12, we’ve lost most of our baby teeth and end up eventually with 28 permanent teeth.

“Hopefully they hang around until you die if you look after them,” Professor Manton says.

It’s in this stage of our lives that, thanks to our social habits, our teeth cop the most punishment. So we need to look after them.

dentist check-up

How to brush adult teeth

Melbourne Dental School’s Dr Livia Naharnowicz says gentle does it when it comes to brushing adult teeth.

“A lot of people feel they need to scrub really hard,” she says.

“You’re not cleaning the tiles in the bathroom; if you scrub them too hard you’ll scrub them away.”

How to keep adult teeth healthy

As well as regular brushing, Dr Naharnowicz says there are a few simple things we can do protect our ivories.

“We should all drink more water,” she advises.

“Water, like saliva, helps wash away the sugars and the acid on the teeth and it also contains fluoride.

“We also all drink more milk. Milk contains calcium, which is essential for healthy teeth because calcium strengthens healthy teeth as well as the bone.”

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.