Ahead of Oral Health Month in June, Klara Heron sits down with Spotlight Oral Care co-founder and dentist, Dr Vanessa Creaven, to discuss common myths, taboos and best practice when it comes to teeth and gums
In partnership with Spotlight Oral Care
What are some common misconceptions or fads in oral care?
One big one would be that you have to go to the dentist to have your teeth whitened and it’s simply not true. Whitening has changed so much in the last 10 to 15 years. There’s a place for professional whitening, but there’s also a place for over the counter whitening products that have active ingredients as well (because very few actually have the active ingredients that you need to whiten your teeth).
I always compare it to skincare. You don’t go into your aesthetician to have a facial once a year and then never wash your face again – you combine both and that’s actually where you get the best results.
Charcoal toothpaste was a fad that was brought out by a marketing company, believe it or not, and nothing to do with dentistry. It’s so damaging to your teeth and you’ll never find a dentist that advocates charcoal because it’s so abrasive. It removes the outer layer of the enamel and, ironically, makes your teeth darker over time.
Do many people feel fear when it comes to going to the dentist?
I would say about 20 per cent of our patients would experience fear, shame or even cry in the chair at some stage. I think that so much of it comes from experiencing trauma at the dentist as a child and that really lingers with you.
We don’t really know what’s happening in our own mouths, even as dentists – it’s very difficult to tell what’s actually happening in your own mouth without someone else examining it. And I think that lack of control and the unknown can be quite frightening for some people.
People always feel like they are going to be the worst case that we’ve ever seen and that we’ll be shocked and horrified that you haven’t been to the dentist in five or 10 or 15 years, but in reality it’s actually so common.
In an ideal world, what is a gold standard oral health routine?
What you do at home really does matter. Brushing your teeth twice a day using a fluoride-based toothpaste is really important. Investing that little bit to have the best clinically-proven active ingredients in your toothpaste really does help because that’s actually what’s going to stop decay starting before it has a chance to develop into a filling. And that’s when you need the dentist.
Sonic brushes are amazing and that’s actually where I notice a huge difference as a dentist, it’s a game changer versus a manual brush. And flossing is important as well – either with a water flosser or traditional floss, because between the teeth is where almost half of decay starts. And lastly, using a mouthwash around lunchtime.
You’re really reducing your risk of decay when you follow those few steps because decay is funny in that it doesn’t take much to stop it, but once it’s started you’re in a cycle of having fillings and needing fillings replaced, and that’s when dentistry gets expensive. Preventative oral care is really important. That’s why we’re so passionate about the ingredients we use in Spotlight Oral Care because we know if you use these products day in, day out, you’re really reducing your risk of needing long term dentistry.
When is the best time to start kids practicing oral care?
We generally say from the age of zero to two to brush teeth twice a day just with water and a toothbrush. From age two to seven they should use children’s toothpaste, and then after that they can use adult toothpaste.
The current guidance is to bring your child to the dentist as soon as their first tooth drops and that’s about seven months. I don’t expect you to be booking your child in for a check-up at seven months, but I do think it can be really helpful to bring your children to the dentist with you when you’re getting a check-up.
When I have a parent in, I would check the adult’s teeth, and then I would get the child into the chair for a minute or two. You may be able to look in the mouth and if you are, brilliant. But it’s just about getting them used to being there – to experience the smells, the people, the masks. That really helps children.
On other end of the scale, what should we be mindful of when it comes to having healthy teeth and gums as we age?
As we get older, we’re more prone to bad breath and bleeding gums. Definitely get into your hygienist, maybe every three to six months depending on your gums. I always say the gums are like the curtains of the smile – they’re really formative in your overall smile.
We tend to develop a little bit of discoloration as we age, too, so whitening is important. A lot of my patients in their 50s and 60s would say, ‘I’m too old to whiten my teeth’. I think we sometimes associate white teeth with the younger generation, but actually it really rejuvenates the smile.
Sustainability is so important; what steps has Spotlight Oral Care taken to become more environmentally friendly?
The oral care industry is one of the worst sectors when it comes to environmental footprint. Over 10 billion toothpaste tubes end up in landfill every year and will take thousands of years to degrade. So from the start sustainability has been really important to us.
All our toothpaste tubes are made from sugar cane, which is carbon negative in its production, but also fully recyclable. Our floss is made from recycled plastic bottles in northern Italy and not only is it recycled, it’s also recyclable.
We’ve partnered with Terracycle to make aligners recyclable, because in our clinics we used to do a huge amount of Invisalign and they were all just being thrown into clinical waste, when they could be remanufactured for something else. We’ve also reduced our packaging by 50%, so we’ve changed from heavier cardboard cylinders to a recycled square box.
I always say it’s a journey – we’re constantly pushing the boundaries to see what we can do next.