Oral health

Find ways to keep teeth and gums healthy to prevent tooth decay. Get access to dental treatment.

Take care of your teeth and mouth

  • Brush teeth twice a day, last thing at night, and at least one other time.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Spit out after brushing and don't rinse to keep the amount of fluoride in your mouth.
  • Reduce the amount and frequency of sugary food and drink consumed.
  • Sweet food and drinks should be restricted to mealtime and avoided before bedtime.
  • Avoid smoking and other tobacco products, and stay within the recommended level of alcohol consumption.
  • Visit a dentist regularly for check-ups.
  • see a dentist urgently if you have any non-healing, non-painful ulcer present for 2 weeks or longer.
  • where possible, use sugar-free medicines.

More information can be found on NHS healthy body guide for teeth and gums.

How to find NHS dental treatment

The NHS has information about accessing routine and urgent dental care, and finding an NHS dentist near you. Alternatively family or friends may be able to recommend a dentist.

NHS dental charges

This outlines the NHS dental charges you may pay depending on the treatment you need to keep your mouth, gums and teeth healthy. You will only ever be asked to pay one charge for each complete course of treatment, even if you need to visit your dentist more than once to finish it – either Band 1, Band 2 or Band 3.

Who can get free NHS dental care

You're entitled to free NHS dental care if you are:

  • aged under 18, or under 19 and in qualifying full-time education
  • pregnant or have had a baby in the previous 12 months
  • staying in an NHS hospital and your treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist
  • an NHS hospital dental service outpatient – but you may have to pay for your dentures or bridges

or if you or your partner – including civil partner – receive, or you're under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving:

  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • Universal Credit and meet the criteria

Or if you're entitled to or named on:

Dental emergency and out-of-hours care

If you think you need urgent care, contact your usual dentist as some practices offer emergency dental slots and will provide care if clinically necessary.

Contact NHS 111, who can put you in touch with an urgent dental service. Do not contact your GP, as they will not be able to offer urgent or emergency dental care.

Dental treatment for people with additional needs

Community Dental Services in Bedford Borough accept referrals from dentists and non-dental healthcare professionals and other organisations for patients with additional needs, plus size patients and those anxious patients requiring care under sedation or General Anaesthesia. 

Oral health, breastfeeding and infant feeding

Breast milk is the only food or drink babies need for around the first 6 months of their life. First formula milk is the only suitable alternative to breast milk.

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for around the first 6 months of life. Complementary foods should be introduced from around 6 months of age alongside continued breastfeeding. Breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay.

Bottle-fed babies should be introduced to drinking from a free-flow cup from the age of 6 months and bottle feeding should be discouraged from 12 months old.

Only milk or water should be drunk between meals and adding sugar to foods or drinks should be avoided.

Parents and guardians are advised to take young children in their care to see a dentist as soon as their first teeth come through, and before their first birthday.

Mouth cancer

Mouth cancers can arise from any area in the mouth including the lips, tongue, gums, and cheeks.

Alcohol and tobacco use increase your risk of developing mouth cancer; the combined effect of drinking alcohol and using tobacco multiplies this risk. Smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, are also harmful.

Stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and eating a healthy balanced diet can reduce the risk of developing mouth cancer.

Three signs and symptoms not to ignore are:

  • mouth ulcers which do not heal in three weeks
  • red and white patches in the mouth
  • unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area

Why oral health is so important

Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet it remains a serious problem.

In 2017, around a third of 5-year-old children in Bedford were shown to have experienced tooth decay (31.3%), having on average 4 teeth affected. This compared to a around a quarter across England (23.3%). Poor diet, smoking, alcohol, diabetes and some medication may put you at risk of poor oral health.

Poor oral health can lead to:

  • pain and discomfort, sleepless nights, loss of function and self-esteem, and in turn disrupts family life
  • time off work and missed days from school for children
  • tooth decay may impact on the development of children, their social interactions, school readiness and academic attainment with subsequent impacts throughout childhood and adult life
  • where decay develop into more serious disease, extraction may be needed and general anaesthetic (GA) is often necessary for young children.
  • socially isolation from the experience of tooth decay or having missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures
  • an impact on general health