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Do our toothbrushes harbour bacteria?

Toothbrushes. We use them every day and we rarely give them a second thought. But should we be paying closer attention to them? According to several studies, toothbrushes can harbour bacteria that can cause disease.


Back to the past

The first mass-produced toothbrush was produced in 1780 by a man called William Addis. These early toothbrushes used animal bristles instead of the synthetic fibres we use today.

But people slowly became aware that animal bristles weren’t the best choice because they harboured bacteria. A document from 1929 demonstrates the thinking at the time:

“It is becoming well known among authorities on this subject that the use of the ordinary tooth brush does not prevent the spread of disease and germs in the mouth, but rather tends to increase the spreading of the bacteria.”


Modern evidence

Nowadays our toothbrushes are made of synthetic fibres instead of animal bristles. But could our modern toothbrushes still harbour bacteria?

A 2012 study examined the existing evidence into “toothbrush contamination”, which is the theory that brushing spreads bacteria from our mouths to the toothbrush. The researchers looked at the findings of ten studies from 1977 to 2011. All ten studies found that toothbrush contamination is real. In other words, used toothbrushes harbour bacteria. The bacteria aren’t just the harmless type either: some of the bugs they found included E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and the herpes virus, all of which cause disease.

The studies also found that a toothbrush becomes more contaminated with use. This means the longer you use your toothbrush, the greater the number of bacteria you’ll get.


What can I do about toothbrush contamination?

Thankfully there are a few things you can do to look after your toothbrush. One method is to use mouthwash. You can swill mouthwash around in your mouth before brushing, as this is a proven way to kill most of the bacteria in your mouth and thereby reduce the amount of bacteria transferred to your toothbrush. Another option is to soak your toothbrush in mouthwash before and/or after brushing. This is another proven way to kill most bacteria on a toothbrush.

Also, if you happen to have an ultraviolet light lying around your house, then you’re in luck: one study found that ultraviolet light is effective at decontaminating toothbrushes.

You might think that rinsing your toothbrush under tap water is sufficient, but not so. A study found that toothbrushes rinsed under water still have high levels of contamination.

Of course, another solution is to change your toothbrush often. This way you switch to a new brush whenever your old toothbrush has a lot of contamination.


How often should I change my toothbrush?

Most dentists recommend changing your toothbrush every three to four months. That’s because after three to four months, the bristles on the toothbrush become worn and frayed, which means the toothbrush no longer cleans well.

But in light of the evidence in these studies, it might be a good idea to change your toothbrush more frequently. Or at least you should leave your toothbrush in mouthwash after brushing.

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What causes the tongue to change colour?

We use our tongues constantly: to talk, to swallow, and to eat. So it can be frustrating when your tongue doesn’t work as it should. Common tongue problems include soreness, pain and discolouration. There are a number of causes for tongue discolouration, but fortunately, most can be solved fairly easily. Read on to learn more.


Vitamin deficiencies

Deficiency in certain vitamins can cause your tongue to change colour. For example, deficiencies in vitamin B3 (niacin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cobalamin) can all cause your tongue to become red. Eating a varied diet can help prevent vitamin deficiencies like these.


Kawasaki syndrome

Kawasaki syndrome is another health problem that can turn the tongue red. It’s a disease where blood vessels throughout the body become inflamed. It usually only affects small children and it is not contagious. Furthermore, it is a rare condition and most people recover from it without any lasting problems.



Leukoplakia is a white patch that typically occurs on the tongue and the inside of the mouth. It’s quite rare as it only affects around 2% of people. The cause is unknown, but known risk factors include alcohol and smoking. Leukoplakia is often not serious and usually goes away on its own when the patient stops smoking and limits their alcohol intake. Surgically removal might also be necessary.


Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the mouth. It manifests as white patches on the tongue and the inside of the mouth. Oral thrush is most common in infants, the elderly, diabetics and people with weakened immune systems. Antibiotics are another cause of oral thrush, because they kill all bacteria in the mouth indiscriminately, good and bad. This creates an opportunity for thrush to grow.


Lingua villosa nigra

Believe it or not, there’s a condition that turns the tongue black. It’s called lingua villosa nigra, which means ‘black hairy tongue’. Although the name suggests that the tongue becomes hairy, it only actually takes on the appearance of hair. The papillae on the tongue become longer and look like small hairs. A black tongue is also not as serious as it sounds; it’s caused by bacteria overgrowing on the tongue. The solution is usually just to practice better oral hygiene, especially by brushing or scraping the tongue.


Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition where red spots appear on the tongue. The spots occur in a map-like pattern, thus the name ‘geographic tongue’. The spots sometimes also have a white border around them. The condition is usually harmless and goes away on its own after a few days. A dentist or doctor might prescribe a topical cream if the spots are sore or painful.



If your tongue has changed colour or if you think you have one of the conditions above, then don’t hesitate to see a doctor or dentist. They will be able to confirm a diagnosis and provide treatments if necessary.

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Why do we give children so much sugar, and what can we do about it?

Why do we give children so much sugar? Biscuits, cake, pocket money spent on sweets, more sweets given by relatives, goody bags and cake at birthday parties, and chocolate at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. Children should get no more than 11 per cent of their calories from added sugar, yet according to a survey by Public Health England, the average child gets around 15 per cent of their calories from added sugar. What’s more, many children ingest far more than this.

We all want children to be healthy. So then why are so we doing the opposite by giving them so much sugar?

The reasons we give children sugar

Some reasons we give sugar to children are:

  • We like making children happy.
  • We associate childhood with treats like sweets, cake and chocolate.
  • We don’t like fighting with children over food; it’s easier to just give them what they want.
  • Peer pressure: children are teased at school if their lunchboxes contain healthy food instead of junk food.

Why is sugar bad for children?

The effects of sugar on teeth are well-known: plaque, decay, and even tooth loss. Despite this, many parents give their young children sugary drinks like juice and cordial. One study found that 12 per cent of three-year-olds already have tooth decay. In some parts of the UK, this figure rises to a third.

You might be thinking, “Does tooth loss in childhood really matter? Don’t baby teeth fall out anyway?” Yes – but it’s still important to look after baby teeth. This is because problems with baby teeth can affect adult teeth later on down the road.

And of course, sugar isn’t just bad for teeth. It’s also detrimental to other aspects of health too. Sugar has been linked to diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

What can I do about my kids eating sugar?

Here’s a few tips about how to improve your children’s diets and reduce their sugar intake:

  • Limit the amount of sugary foods in your house. Simply stop buying junk food like chocolate milk, sugary cereals, cakes, and biscuits. Instead, buy healthier alternatives like carrots, hummus, rice cakes, low sugar cereals, peanut butter, cheese, popcorn, and fruit. Your children won’t be happy at first, but it’s for the good of their long-term health.
  • Set a good example. At meal times, give your children the same food you’re eating. Children like to mimic their parents’ behaviour; if they see you eating broccoli, they’ll be more likely to eat it too.
  • Don’t force your children to eat healthy foods. Don’t say things like “eat your vegetables”. Studies have found that forcing children to eat food will only make them more likely to resist.
  • Get kids to cook with you. Children are more likely to eat food that they’ve helped to create. So, have your child help prepare a salad, or get her to cut vegetables if she’s old enough.

Also, remember that cutting down on sugar is just one part of a healthy childhood; don’t forget the importance of regular dentist appointments for your children too.

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Eight uses for an old toothbrush

How often do you change your toothbrush? For a lot of people, the answer is ‘not often enough’. Toothbrushes have quite a short lifespan of just three to four months, after which they become too worn out and frayed to clean teeth properly. That’s why dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every three to four months.

Also, the next time you’re in the bathroom, take a closer look at your toothbrush. Do the bristles already look frayed? If yes, replace it. Some toothbrushes become worn-out before three months, in which case you should buy a new one.

But before you throw that old toothbrush away, did you know you can reuse it for other things? Such as…

  1. Cleaning electronics. Take a close look at your laptop keyboard. How much food, hair, fluff and dead skin can you see? If you’re anything like us then the answer is: ‘a lot’. People often use computers for hours a day, so it’s no surprise how much grease and dirt collect in the keyboard. Luckily, a toothbrush can be a handy way to clean keyboards because their bristles can reach under the keys.
  2. Cleaning a bicycle chain. Apparently a toothbrush is the perfect tool for cleaning bicycle chains. Who knew? The bristles are small enough to squeeze between each link and give the chain a proper clean.
  3. Removing stubborn dirt from your nails. Dirt and debris under your fingernails is definitely annoying, but did you know that a toothbrush can remove it in seconds? Go ahead and try it! Apparently, some people even carry a toothbrush in their handbag just for this purpose. We’re not sure who these people are though.
  4. Treating your dog to a manicure. Well, okay, maybe giving a manicure to a dog is a bit much (unless you’re Paris Hilton). But a toothbrush is definitely a good way to clean a dog’s nails at least.
  5. Polishing your jewellery. Are you a bling addict? Do you wear more metal than Mr. T? If yes, then this tip is for you: use an old toothbrush to polish your jewellery. It’s a surprisingly good way to make your jewellery shine and sparkle.
  6. Exfoliating your lips. Who doesn’t have dry lips in the winter? Thankfully a toothbrush can exfoliate your them by removing the dead skin. Don’t believe us? Try it yourself!
  7. Cleaning the toilet. Toothbrushes are great for cleaning your teeth, but they’re also pretty good at cleaning the toilet too, not to mention all the nooks and crannies in the bathroom. But a word of warning: don’t mix up your old toothbrush with your new one.
  8. Treating scabies. Finally, according to the NHS, an old toothbrush is perfect for applying scabies cream to your fingernails and toenails. But again, please do not mix up your old toothbrush with your new one. That would not be pleasant.
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Dental Care After Pregnancy

If you’re a pregnant woman or a father-to-be, then you probably already know the importance of a woman’s dental care during pregnancy. But what about after pregnancy? Good dental care shouldn’t stop after giving birth.

We know that new babies can be very demanding. There will be days when you find yourself covered in baby sick, empty bottle in one hand and dirty nappy in the other. On days like those, your dental health might be the last thing on your mind. But it’s important to look after yourself as well as the newborn, and that includes your dental health too. On that note, here are our tips for post-pregnant oral health.


Gingivitis, also known as gum inflammation, is common during pregnancy: around two-fifths of pregnant women suffer from it. If you’ve already given birth and are taking the oral contraceptive pill, then this can also increase the risk of gingivitis.

Gingivitis is unpleasant as it causes sore and bleeding gums, so you’ll be happy to know that the risk of gingivitis decreases after pregnancy. Maintaining a good dental hygiene routine (brushing and flossing) also helps to combat gingivitis.

Dental visits

Pregnant women often have to postpone dental treatments if there’s a risk of harm to the foetus. After giving birth, you’ll be free to undergo all treatments again and get any dental problems sorted out.

But do tell your dentist if you are breastfeeding, as some treatments are not suitable for breastfeeding women. This is because medications can pass to the baby via the breast milk. Treatments that are safe include local anaesthetics, such as novocaine, bupivacaine and lidocaine, as well as x-rays and nitrous oxide.

Also keep in mind that NHS dental care is free for one year for new mothers – so you have no excuse to avoid your dentist!


A good diet is also important for a new mother’s oral health. Eat a diet high in vitamins (fruits and vegetables), omega-3 (walnuts and fish), iron (spinach and dark chocolate), and protein (meat, eggs, beans, lentils and nuts).

New mothers should also drink plenty of fluids, because breastfeeding can cause dehydration. Dehydration lowers the amount of saliva in your mouth which can make your mouth into an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which we don’t want!

Your baby’s teeth

Of course, now you have a new family member, you no longer have just your own teeth to take care of; you also have your newborn’s teeth to worry about too. Oh well – no-one ever said that parenthood would be easy.

Your baby’s first tooth will arrive around at six months. From this point and before the first year, you should take the baby to the dentist for her first check-up.

You will also need to clean your baby’s teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush and toothpaste. Make sure the toothpaste is fluoride-free as fluoride can be unsafe for young children.

Finally, if you have any questions or concerns then do make an appointment with us, whether for yourself, your partner or your baby.

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What to do about a missing tooth

Are you hiding a missing tooth?

Missing teeth can be literally no laughing matter, since the gaps in your smile can make you too self-conscious to smile or laugh. We’ve even known people who have declined social events due to their missing teeth.

If a missing tooth has shattered your confidence, then worry no more: it’s relatively easy nowadays to replace a missing tooth. Read on to learn more!

Why do adults lose their teeth?

First, let’s cover the three reasons adults lose their teeth: disease, trauma and chronic illness.

1) Disease

Some people believe that teeth naturally fall out as you get older, but this isn’t true: teeth last a lifetime if you take care of them properly. Unfortunately, however, many people don’t take care of their teeth. This is shown by the fact that gum disease is the most common reason for adult tooth loss.

Gum disease is known as a ‘silent disease’ because it is largely symptomless, at least at the beginning. The disease slowly damages the jawbone, thus causing teeth to fall out.

Tooth decay is another reason for adult tooth loss. This is where bacteria produce acid that slowly disintegrates the tooth. You can help prevent both gum disease and tooth decay with good oral hygiene, which involves brushing, flossing and mouthwash.

2) Trauma

Of course, a severe blow to the head can knock a tooth out. And even if the tooth isn’t knocked out, the tooth might be damaged beyond repair and eventually fall out anyway.

3) Illness

There are some chronic illnesses can cause your teeth to fall out. Examples include diabetes, autoimmune diseases, osteomyelitis and cancer. However, tooth loss due to chronic illness is relatively rare; it’s much more common to lose teeth by gum disease.

What can I do about a missing tooth?

If you’ve lost a tooth due to trauma, then the good news is that dentists can sometimes save the tooth. You will need to get to an emergency dentist as soon as possible – ideally within an hour of the accident. While you make your way to the dentist, keep the tooth in a glass of milk or even in your mouth. This will stop the tooth from drying out.

For everyone else, the treatment for a missing tooth is an artificial tooth. Artificial teeth are typically held in place with a dental bridge or a dental implant.

For many years, dental bridges were the only option to hold an artificial tooth in place. Here, two dental crowns, one on each healthy tooth on either side of the gap, stop the fake tooth from moving around.

Nowadays dental implants are more popular. A dental implant consists of a titanium post that secures the fake tooth to your jaw. The post acts like an artificial root that holds the tooth firmly in place. Dental implants are strong, long-lasting, and they look and feel realistic. The titanium root also helps prevent bone loss by stimulating the surrounding bone. This is why most dentists recommend dental implants nowadays.

Not sure about what to do with your missing tooth?

If you have one or more teeth missing, then make an appointment with one of our dentists so we can discuss your options. Tooth replacement therapy is a great way to boost your confidence and get back the smile you deserve.

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A woman receiving root canal treatment

What to Expect During Root Canal Treatment

Of all the dental procedures out there, perhaps the most feared is the root canal. This is because people often imagine it as an extremely painful procedure, even akin to medieval torture! It’s true that root canals were painful in the past, but fortunately today, modern root canal treatment are virtually painless thanks to anaesthesia.

But since people still fear what they don’t understand, we’re here to dispel myths about root canal treatment and explain exactly what to expect if you undergo this procedure.

What is a root canal?

First, we need to explain what a ‘root’ is. A tooth is made up of two parts: the crown (the part of the tooth you can see) and the root (the part you can’t see). The root is just like the root of a plant. It extends down into the jaw and keeps the tooth firmly in place.

Every tooth has at least one root, and some teeth have two or three roots. For example, the lower molars typically have two roots and the upper molars usually have three roots.

Inside a root are ‘root canals’, which are like tunnels that run from the bottom of the tooth right up to the top. The canals contain the tooth’s blood vessels and nerves. Canals are important because they supply the tooth with everything it need to stay healthy.

What would I need root canal treatment?

Sometimes a tooth’s pulp gets infected with bacteria. Without treatment, an infected tooth usually dies. What’s more, the infection can spread to the nearby gum and bone. There may be a painful abscess (which is an infection between the tooth and gum).

There are two dental procedures to deal with an infection tooth:

  • Root canal treatment
  • Removal of the whole tooth and then replacement with a dental implant, a bridge or dentures

Both techniques are excellent at relieving the pain, but with root canal treatment, you get to retain your original tooth.

What is root canal treatment?

Today, root canal treatment is a routine and virtually painless procedure. The steps in the procedure are as follows:

  • First, the dentist numbs the tooth with an anaesthetic. This will ensure you feel very little discomfort during the procedure.
  • The dentist will make a hole in the top of the tooth to get access to the inside of the tooth.
  • The dentist will then use a file to clean out the infection out of the root canals.
  • The dentist will then fill the canals with a material like tough plastic or rubber that will prevent the canals from getting infected again.
  • Finally, the dentist places a temporary filling on top of the tooth to close to hole. Later, the dentist will replace the temporary filling with a permanent filling or a crown.
  • Hopefully you’ve seen that root canal treatment is not as bad as people make it out to be. We stress that it’s a relatively straightforward procedure and you won’t feel much discomfort. If you like to discuss root canal treatment with us, then please don’t hesitate to call or email us today.

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High View Portrait Of Beautiful Happy Bride Sitting On The Grass

How to Plan Your Perfect Wedding Day Smile

Summer is just around the corner, which means the wedding season is almost upon us! If you’re getting married this year, then you might be worried about the appearance of your teeth. After all, no-one wants yellow or crooked teeth on their wedding day. But have no fear: in this post, we’ll explain exactly what you need to do to a great smile for the aisle.

Six months before the wedding

At least six months before the wedding, both the bride-to-be and groom-to-be should visit the dentist for a check-up. This will also give the dentist an opportunity to see what work should be done, such as fillings, whitening, or even braces. Yes, braces are an option, even if your wedding is only four months away! That’s because braces can achieve results in as little as three to four months. So, ask your dentist if short-term braces might be suitable for you.

Four months before the wedding

With four months to go, you’re probably super-busy now. Between finding the dress, organising the venue, booking the band and writing the guest list, you’ll be lucky if you have a spare minute in the day! But even if you’re short of time, don’t let your dental hygiene suffer: make time to brush twice a day and floss, no matter how busy you are. Your teeth will thank you for it later!

It’s also important to deal with any stress you might be feeling. Some stress is normal, but prolonged stress is bad for your health, and this includes your dental health. For example, stress can lead to increased risk of infections and gingivitis. Another effect of stress is teeth grinding. You might need to start wearing a night guard if you’ve started grinding your teeth at night.

On a ‘lighter’ note, four months before the wedding is also a good time to get your teeth whitened. You can also get your teeth whitened later, but don’t leave it to the last minute, since whitening treatment takes two to four weeks to be effective.

One month before the wedding

With just one month to go before the big day, your teeth might be the last thing on your mind. But don’t neglect your gnashers now; a few final treatments are all your need to ensure a dazzling smile. This should include a scale and polish to remove any stains, as well as a top-up of whitening treatment to ensure your teeth are perfectly white. And if you have braces, then now is the time to get them removed.

Hopefully you can see that with a little planning, it’s not too difficult to have your dream smile for your wedding day. Make an appointment with us so we can discuss your dental needs. Also, we know that money can become tight around a wedding, and that’s why we have a range of affordable options for everyone, no matter what the budget.

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Six ways alcohol abstinence could improve your oral health

Have you been abstaining from alcohol this January? As part of a recent custom known as ‘Dry January’, thousands of Britons have taken part in a month-long abstinence of alcohol. This is great for the health of their livers, but it’s also great for their oral hygiene too. Here’s six ways alcohol abstinence improves oral health.

1. Less sugar

We all know that a diet with lots of sugar can harm your teeth. But did you also know that many alcoholic drinks contain sugar? For example, some cocktails contain around 15 g of sugar, while some ciders contain around 20g of sugar per pint. Wines, sherries, beers and ales also contain sugar. So, by cutting down your alcohol intake, you could help decrease your sugar intake too. Your teeth will thank you for it!

2. Less acid erosion

Beer, wine, and spirits all have a pH less than 4, which means they are acidic. Acidic drinks are bad for your oral hygiene because they slowly erode the enamel on teeth. You don’t want this to happen because enamel is your teeth’s protective outer layer – without enamel, your teeth will be highly susceptible to decay and damage. So, we advise drinking in moderation to avoid enamel erosion.

3. Less risk of oral cancer

Another bad thing about alcohol is that it increases your risk of oral cancer (which is cancer of the mouth, including the tongue, cheeks, and lips). According to Cancer Research UK, oral cancer caused 2,386 deaths in the UK in 2014. While smoking was the largest risk factor for these cancers, 30% of the cancers were linked to alcohol. So, do yourself a favour and drink sensibly (and ideally, stop smoking too).

4. Less staining

Some alcoholic drinks can stain your teeth, particularly red wine and dark beers. Red wine tends to stain your teeth purple, while dark beers can cause brown stains. Indeed, any type of beer over time can cause yellow or brownish stains. So, by avoiding alcohol, you’re helping your teeth to stay a healthy, natural colour. While this won’t necessarily help your oral health, it will keep your smile looking bright and beautiful!

5. Fewer ulcers

Another risk of alcohol consumption is mouth ulcers. Even a single night of drinking can cause small ulcers in your mouth. Mouth ulcers can be painful and make it difficult to eat or drink. So, by lowering your alcohol consumption, you’re lowering your risk of annoying mouth ulcers.

6. Fewer accidents

Finally, let’s tackle the reason for why a lot of people drink in the first place: to get drunk. We don’t deny that being drunk is fun, but when you’re drunk, you’re at a higher risk of having an accident. Accidents such as falls can damage your teeth – or worse. So, don’t be the person who wakes up in the morning with teeth missing. Drink sensibly and help look after your teeth!

If you have any concerns about your oral health related to this article, or just in general, please get in touch with our dentists by calling our team on 01432 274749 or emailing info@willowsdentistry.co.uk.

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