Oral health

Throughout our lives we need to make sure that we all look after our oral health. This includes maintaining a healthy mouth, teeth and gums.

The best way to protect you and your family’s teeth is to do daily oral hygiene practices including:

  • regular toothbrushing to make sure all dental plaque is removed
  • going for regular check-ups at the dentist

If you don’t have a dentist you can find a dentist on NHS.UK.

You can also improve your oral health by reducing sugar consumption, eating a healthy balanced diet and making healthy lifestyle choices such as stopping smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. Our Public Health team is working closely with the Barnsley Local Dental Committee, Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Community Dental Service to improve the oral health of Barnsley residents.

Why does good oral health matter?

Good oral health can help prevent problems with speaking, eating and socialising, tooth ache and in some cases tooth extractions. Most tooth decay and dental disease is preventable by practicing good oral hygiene such as brushing your teeth.

Did you know?

Tooth decay is damage to a tooth which is caused by dental plaque building up on your teeth. Dental plaque is bacteria which coats your teeth if toothbrushing is not carried out correctly. The plaque turns sugars into acid which causes tooth decay and sometimes can lead to gum disease.  

Gum disease

Gum disease is an infection of the gums mainly caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Prolonged gum disease can increase your risk of serious health problems including diabetes and heart disease.

Find out more about gum disease.

Why is it important to check inside your mouth regularly?

Checking your mouth, teeth and gums on a regular basis will mean that you may be able to notice changes within your mouth. When looking inside your mouth, check for any unknown:

  • lumps
  • bumps
  • white patches
  • redness or soreness

If you do notice changes within your mouth you should get in touch with your local dental practice as soon as possible. You can find a dentist on NHS.UK.

What leads to poor oral health?


Regular snacks and drinks that are high in sugar will increase the amount of dental plaque build-up on the teeth. The more dental plaque on the teeth, the greater risk of developing tooth decay.

Oral hygiene practices

Regular and thorough tooth brushing is important. If dental plaque isn't removed from your teeth plaque may build up over time contributing to dental decay.

Poor brushing habits can cause dental plaque to build up on the tooth surface, leading to problems in later life. It's important that you use toothpaste containing fluoride. Fluoride prevents tooth decay as it coats your teeth making them stronger. Adults should use toothpaste which contains between 1350 and 1500 ppm fluoride. It's also recommended that adults use a mouthwash containing fluoride, and this should be done at a separate time to brushing.


It's important that you use toothpaste containing fluoride. Fluoride prevents tooth decay as it coats your teeth making them stronger. It's recommended that for different ages a different amount of fluoride toothpaste is used:

  • children under three years old: use a toothpaste with at least 1000ppm fluoride
  • children between three and six years old: use a toothpaste with more than 1000ppm fluoride
  • children seven years old or older and adults: use a toothpaste with between 1350 and 1500 ppm fluoride

It's also recommended that you use a mouthwash containing fluoride at a separate time to brushing.

Find out more about fluoride and taking care of children's teeth.

Smoking and oral health

Smoking can lead to:

  • staining of the teeth
  • bad breath
  • gum disease
  • increased risk of infection
  • tooth abstractions

Smoking is sometimes linked to mouth cancer.

Who is entitled to free NHS dental treatment in England?

You do not have to pay for NHS dental services if you're:

  • under 18, or under 19 and in full-time education
  • pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
  • being treated in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist. (You may have to pay for any dentures or bridges)
  • receiving low income benefits, or you're under 20 and a dependant of someone receiving low income benefits

Find out more on the NHS website

Oral health for babies, infants and children

Getting into a good oral health routine early in life is important because the habits we develop as young children are likely to be the habits that we maintain throughout our lives.

What toothbrush should I use for babies, infants and children?


You should wipe your baby’s gums with a damp cloth after feeding to make sure all food is removed from their gums, helping to keep gums clean. If your baby’s first tooth does begin to come through, it's important that you use a toothbrush which has a tiny head as this will fit into your baby’s mouth.


Toothbrushes for toddlers usually have smaller heads and larger handles to help toddlers grip them. It's important that you encourage your toddler to copy the way you brush your teeth at this age to help create toothbrushing behaviour effectively. Toddlers normally want to participate in toothbrushing from two years old.

Children aged between five and eight years old

At this age your child should be getting ready to carry out toothbrushing practices on their own with parental supervision. Toothbrushes which are specific for children aged between five and eight years old are usually slightly slimmer for children of this age.

Children aged eight and older

Children should be able to independently brush their teeth when they are aged eight. Your child should use a toothbrush which has a larger handle and smaller head compared to adult toothbrushes.

What's the correct amount of toothpaste I should use for babies, infants and children?

It's recommended that children below three years old should only use a smear of toothpaste. A pea-sized blob of toothpaste is recommended for those three years and older.

If you're unsure about the quantity of fluoride within your toothpaste, you can check the packet which the toothpaste came in or ask your dentist.

Find out more about taking care of children's teeth

What are the signs that my child is teething?

Teething starts to happen when your child is aged six months to three years old. Teething is when your child’s first teeth begin to come through.

Signs that your child is beginning to teeth are:

  • irritability
  • drooling or dribbling
  • putting things in their mouth
  • waking up in the night

Teething rings are designed to help stop your child’s discomfort when they're teething. Your local pharmacy may be able to provide medication which helps ease your child’s pain when they're teething, but try to make sure that this medication is sugar free.

Find out more about helping your baby when they're teething.

Does breastfeeding impact my baby’s dental health?

Breastfeeding up to 12 months is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay. Breastfeeding also provides exercise for development of a baby’s mouth, tongue and jaws and many orthodontists say they see fewer dental problems in breastfed babies.

Find out more about breastfeeding and dental health.

Will giving my child a dummy after 12 months old impact upon my child’s dental health?

Breastfeeding mums should wait until breastfeeding is well established before introducing a dummy (4 to 6 weeks) as introducing a dummy too early can prevent effective/responsive feeding. Find out more about breastfeeding and dummy use.

If your child has a dummy after 12 months old this may move their teeth to allow the dummy to fit into their mouth. This is known as an open bite, which over time can impact upon your child’s dental health. It's advised to only use a dummy until your baby is 12 months old.

It's also advised to not put your baby’s dummy in sugary products such as sugar or jam as this can cause sugar to sit on your baby’s gums or first milk teeth. It's important to recognise that prolonged dummy use impacts upon a child’s speech, as they may be unable to get their tongue to meet their front teeth impacting upon the way they pronounce certain words.

Dummies can also increase the levels of decay-causing bacteria in babies’ mouths. Therefore, if parents have chosen to use a dummy, it should be gently withdrawn between six and 12 months, to avoid the possible longer-term problems associated with dummy use. 

You can find more guidance on dummies on the NHS webpage about looking after your baby's teeth, under the heading ‘Should I give my baby a dummy?’

How to include toothbrushing with your child in your daily routine

You should try to include toothbrushing with your child into your daily routine and complete this in the morning and evening.  

Parent supervised toothbrushing

To make sure children brush their teeth properly it's important to supervise them up until they're seven years old, although some children may need more supervision after they're seven years old. This makes sure that toothbrushing is being carried out effectively.

Find out more about taking care of children's teeth.

Toothbrushing books

A good way to educate your children about the importance of toothbrushing is by reading toothbrushing books with them.

Ideas to make toothbrushing fun - toothbrushing games

One way to include toothbrushing into your daily routine and to make sure children want to brush their teeth is to make it in to a fun toothbrushing game. This could be done by:

  • giving stickers to encourage them to take part in oral hygiene practices
  • playing music when toothbrushing
  • trying an app on a smartphone to make toothbrushing an exciting activity that children want to take part in 

When should I first take my child to the dentist?

You should start to take your child to the dentist when you attend your dental appointments as this will help to familiarise your child with the dental environment, such as sounds and smells of a dental practice. When visiting for your dental appointments, make appointments fun by providing children with stickers, as this will encourage a positive experience for your child.

You should take your child to the dentist as soon as their first milk tooth comes through or before their first birthday (whichever comes first). This helps to prevent decay, gets them familiar with the environment and helps your dentist to advise you on oral hygiene practices.

Find out more about taking your child on the dentist in the children's teeth section of NHS.UK.

Does diet impact my child’s dental health?

Diet does impact your child’s dental health. Reducing free sugars throughout the day and at bedtime is better for your child’s teeth as these sugars stay on teeth and turn into plaque if not removed properly.

Examples of foods containing a lot of free sugars include:

  • soft drinks which are sugary such as fruit juices, fizzy pop and smoothies
  • sweet goods such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and ice cream
  • table condiments such as jams, honey, chocolate spread, syrups and sweet sauces

There are recommended amounts of sugars which children should be consuming daily according to Public Health England. These are:

  • four to six-year olds - 19g of sugar per day, which is around five sugar cubes
  • six to 10-year olds - 24g of sugar per day, which is around six sugar cubes
  • 11 year olds and older - 30g of sugar per day, which is around seven sugar cubes

A top tip to help reduce the amount of sugar your child is consuming is to keep a diet log. This will help to track all food to make sure that your child is consuming the correct amount of sugar for their age.

Find out about sugar swaps for kids and how to cut down on sugar in your diet.

Does poor dental health impact my child’s ability to go to school?

Your child’s dental health does impact your child’s ability to go to school through various ways. Poor oral health may affect your child’s ability to eat, sleep, communicate and socialise with friends and family. Poor dental health may cause your child to be in pain, so they may have to miss school days which can affect their education.

Find out more about child oral health.

What can teenagers do to look after their teeth and gums?

Teenagers should brush their teeth twice daily.

Interdental brushes are useful to clean in-between the teeth to make sure all food and plaque is removed from the tooth surface. Dental floss is a useful alternative if interdental brushes do not fit into the gaps between the teeth.

If you have orthodontic braces, then it's important to be extra careful when brushing your teeth because braces may trap food causing plaque to build up. You may need to brush more softly to prevent your braces being damaged. Find out more about braces and orthodontics.

Oral health for adults and older adults

It's important to look after our oral health as we get older by maintaining a healthy mouth, teeth, gums and dentures.

How can adults and older adults maintain good oral health?

You can maintain good oral health by making lifestyle choices such as having a healthy diet and reducing sugary snacks, stopping smoking and ensuring oral hygiene practices are maintained.

Oral hygiene practices

Approximately three out of four adults brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste which helps to maintain good oral health. There are a variety of oral hygiene practices that you can do to prevent poor oral health. These include toothbrushing habits, toothbrushes and the use of dental aids.


You should brush once in the morning and once in the evening to ensure all plaque is removed from your tooth surfaces. It's important to brush in small circular motions from where your teeth meet your gums. This will ensure that you have cleaned all your teeth.


Although manual toothbrushes are good at removing plaque, electric toothbrushes may also be helpful to use if you experience arthritis or find it difficult to grip a manual toothbrush.

Dental aids

Using interdental brushes and dental floss after toothbrushing will help remove food which is stuck between teeth. If plaque builds up and is not removed, this could cause gums to bleed.

How to look after your natural teeth

As you get older it’s important to look after your natural teeth.

  • Brush your teeth with a toothpaste which contains 1450ppm fluoride. This information can be found on the packaging of your toothpaste.
  • If your teeth do break or crack, keep the fragments as your dentist may use these fragments to repair your teeth.
  • If you experience a sensitive tooth, brush with sensitive toothpaste, and contact your local dental practice if your problem persists.
  • If you experience pain or discomfort, drinking through a straw, eating a soft diet or using a soft toothbrush may help. If pain continues, get in touch with your dentist.

How to care for your dentures

It's important to look after your dentures just as much as your natural teeth, you can do this by:

  • Clean your dentures twice daily; once in the morning and once in the evening using a separate toothbrush that you use to clean your natural teeth with. You should use soap and water or denture cream making sure to rinse your dentures well.
  • Try to rinse your dentures after every meal using drinking water to make sure that all food stuck in your dentures is removed.
  • Try not to wear your dentures overnight. Instead, wash them with drinking water and soap and place them in a dry container. While your dentures are out of your mouth, make sure that your natural teeth have been cleaned thoroughly.
  • You should never ‘glue’ your dentures if they break, as this may lead to secondary problems. If your dentures begin to rub, become loose, or breaks, you should take your dentures out and seek help from your local dental practice.

How to care for your mouth

It's also important to look after your mouth. You can do this by:

  • Making sure that you check your mouth regularly for any white patches, lumps, bumps or redness. If you do notice any difference in your mouth, you should contact your local dental practice for advice.
  • If you've had an ulcer for more than two weeks, you should also contact your local dentist.
  • If you have a mouth ulcer it's important that you do not wear your dentures as this may cause irritation. Contact your local dental practice for guidance.
  • If you experience dry mouth having regular small sips of water may help, but if the problem persists, contact your dentist for advice.

How to spot mouth cancer

It's important to keep checking your mouth for any changes in your oral health such as:

  • lumps, bumps, white patches and mouth ulcers
  • changes in your speech such as a lisp
  • unexplained numbness in any area of your mouth
  • loose teeth
  • sockets that have not healed after extractions

If you spot any of these signs, you should book an appointment at your local dental practice for a check-up. Find out more about mouth cancer.

Concerns about your oral health

If you have any concerns about your oral health, changes in your oral health (including breaks or cracks in your natural teeth), damaged dentures, dry mouth or other concerns, it's important that you don't leave them and you ask for advice from your local dental practice.

Always remember:

  • dental practices are safe environments with strict hygiene procedures in place
  • contact your local dentist if you have a lump, bump, white patch, soreness, redness, pain or any other concern
  • don't suffer or worry alone; get in touch with your local dental practice for advice

More information

You can find a dentist on NHS.UK. Alternatively, you can call 111 and they will help you find a local dental practice in your area.

You can also find further information about how to maintain good oral health on the webpages below: