A dentist of whom most Britons have never heard but will have by the time this post appears is Dr Chris van Tulleken.

The lucky specialist is presenting a two-part series for the BBC called The Truth About Your Teeth. The first part aired on Thursday, June 4, 2015. The second episode will appear on June 11.

The Telegraph gave his top ten tips for oral hygiene, which first appeared in a recent edition of the Radio Times.

In principle, I agree with most of what he advises. However, there are areas of disagreement:

– Brushing before we eat is going to distort the taste of our food. And not rinsing toothpaste? Hmm. Is toothpaste powerful enough to kill residual bad bacteria? Personally, I prefer the traditional way of brushing then rinsing, which removes whatever nasties have been in one’s mouth.

– Smokers have the highest proliferation of gum disease? Pull the other one. I know of many non-smokers — and never-smokers — who have a problem in this area. Why not discourage us from eating too many sugars and carbohydrates which create plaque?

– Cucumbers instead of mouthwash? That’s a new one. An old-fashioned clove formulation is the historical and best anti-bacterial mouthwash, better than mint, which was no doubt developed for those who can’t stand the taste of clove.

However, his most offensive comment was this:

Dr Chris van Tulleken told the Radio Times that Britain had become “internationally renowned” for having “really lousy” teeth – and so suffered more health problems.

Yes, the British are known for crooked, misshapen teeth as anyone who has watched The Simpsons will attest.

Decay: US versus UK

Yet, the American site FiveThirtyEight says the opposite: a recent OECD report shows British teeth are in better condition than their American counterparts.

Excerpts follow:

In the past year, about seven in 10 people in Britain visited a dentist, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only four in 10 Americans did the same.

There’s a better way to settle this: data on tooth decay (that stuff that you get after plaque builds up and before you enter a world of pain).  According to the OECD (so we’re only considering developed countries), 28 percent of adults in England have tooth decay. Compare that to a jaw-dropping 92 percent of adults in America with tooth decay. The British should be smiling. 1-0 U.K.

A lower amount of decay means you’re more likely to keep your teeth. Sure enough, British mouths, on average, have almost a whole extra tooth compared to U.S. mouths. (I know, but you should wait until you get home to count them.) 2-0 U.K.

Where I disagree with the journalist is this statement:

In the U.K. the National Health Service pays for “all clinically necessary treatment” and even non-necessary treatment is heavily subsidized

I’ve lived here for well over two decades and have never had a dentist who accepts NHS reimbursement or NHS subsidy for dental work. Even in average neighbourhoods where there is a need for such dentistry, there are none to be found. It’s a difficult and lengthy process for dentists to receive government reimbursement, so most have refused to accept patients wishing to use an NHS programme for treatment.

This means that nearly all of us pay privately, contrary to what the FiveThirtyEight article says. The downside is, of course, that a number of needier Britons extract their own teeth when necessary, pliers being a popular dental instrument. Every now and then a newspaper article on the subject appears. The patient, usually a man, appears fit and healthy, just cash-strapped.

Enamel regeneration

Another topic of concern is preventing enamel erosion. We know it cannot be regenerated as such — once it’s gone, it’s gone — but layers of appropriate minerals can be brushed on daily to help allegedly protect what is left.

A newish Unilever product, available in the UK, is Regenerate. Regenerate has two aspects. One is a serum (£30+) and an accompanying toothpaste (£10, approximately).

The serum is a bit beyond my budget and, apparently, that of other British consumers as well. We buy the toothpaste, which should at least help.

The Mail tells us that the two main ingredients which help to delay further enamel deterioration are calcium silicate and sodium phosphate.

Another toothpaste — which doesn’t require an accompanying serum — is the old favourite Sensodyne, which is approximately half the price of Regenerate. It has the same ingredients and a new release is called Sensodyne Repair and Protect.

One advantage Regenerate has is that children under the age of 12 can use it. Sensodyne’s instructions advise against using Repair and Protect on little ones under that age.

I have tried Regenerate and have now bought Sensodyne Repair and Protect, which I shall report on in future.

A tube of Regenerate has lasted me eight months. I only use it once a day. It seems pricey until one realises that only a hazelnut-sized dab needs to be used. It’s a dense toothpaste which lathers quickly and brushes well.

An additional note is that one should rinse one’s brush out well under hot water afterward after each use, as some residue collects on the plastic underneath the bristles.

I do not know if it has made a substantial difference, but I shall compare results with the new Sensodyne paste.

Despite claims from the makers of such toothpastes, some people say that products said to be combatting enamel erosion might not be patching up occlusions in the enamel at all. They may be merely densitising nerves.

The jury is still out. Unilever has already been called to account for an advertising claim about Regenerate.

A 2006 study on enamel erosion found that certain acidic drinks and, oddly enough, brushing, may exacerbate the problem. Even notional tooth-friendly drinks might be harmful.

Whitening products

Tooth-whitening pastes have been around for decades.

But do they work? Could they be harmful?

This Quora response tells us:

If it contains in the ingredients any “abrasives” or “particles” or more importantly “hydrated silica” ; then yes …

Hmm.

Overzealous brushing might not make our teeth whiter, either, but lead to enamel erosion.

One toothpaste which I have used with decent (not perfect) results is Blanx. Blanx intrigued me because it has all natural ingredients, such as Arctic lichen. Still, one almost has to use it daily to see improved results over time. It’s £6.30 a tube.

Conclusion

Navigating the dental drama has become a real topic of our time. On the one hand, how fortunate we are to be dominated by such a luxury worry. On the other, how deplorable that we now judge others by their orthodontia, especially the whiteness!

Yet, no over-the-counter toothpaste is 100% perfect. The search for the Dental Grail continues.

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