Lifestyle tips for healthy teeth

Taking care of your general health and your mouth is the key to making the most of your smile.

Brushing your teeth twice a day (last thing at night before you go to bed and on one other occasion) with fluoride toothpaste and having regular check-ups with a dentist can help keep your teeth healthy. Diet, smoking and drinking alcohol also have an effect on dental health.

A healthy diet is good for your teeth

What you eat and drink can cause tooth decay, so a healthy diet is important for your teeth.

A healthy, balanced diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta (choose wholegrain versions and eat potatoes with their skin where possible).

You should also eat sources of protein such as meat, fish, eggs, beans or other non-dairy sources of protein, and some milk and dairy foods (ideally lower fat options).

Only eat small amounts of food and drinks high in fat and sugar. The eatwell plate shows how the different types of food should make up your diet.

Find out more about how to eat a balanced diet.

Reduce sugar to prevent tooth decay

Limiting the amount of sugar you eat and drink is important to prevent tooth decay.

A lot of the sugars we eat and drink are in food and drinks such as:

  • sweets, chocolate, cakes and biscuits
  • sugary drinks, including soft drinks, fizzy drinks, milky drinks with added sugar, and alcohol
  • fruit juice, including fresh fruit juice
  • buns, pastries and fruit pies
  • sponge puddings and other puddings
  • table sugar added to food or drinks, such as tea
  • sugary breakfast cereals
  • jams, marmalades, honey and syrups
  • ice cream and sorbets
  • dried fruit or fruit in syrup
  • syrups and sweet sauces

Try to cut down on the added sugar you have in your diet.

Stick to one glass of fruit juice a day

Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of sugars.

But when fruit is juiced or blended, as in smoothies, the sugars are released from the structure of the fruit. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, especially if you drink fruit juice frequently.

Even unsweetended fruit juice is sugary, so try not to drink more than one glass (about 150ml) of fruit juice each day.

Read more about how to cut down on sugar.

How smoking damages teeth

Smoking can stain your teeth yellow, cause bad breath, and increases your risk of gum disease, breathing problems, lung cancer and mouth cancer.

If you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day, you're six times more likely to develop mouth cancer than someone who doesn't smoke. So giving up smoking is important if you want to look and feel better.

Find advice on how to stop smoking.

Alcohol and oral health

Alcohol misuse has been linked to an increased risk of developing mouth cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, 75-80% of mouth cancer patients say they frequently drink alcohol.

The most important risk factors for mouth cancers are the combined effect of smoking and drinking alcohol.

It's estimated that heavy drinkers and smokers have a 38 times increased risk of developing mouth cancer than people who neither drink nor smoke.

Alcohol can also erode the outer surface of the teeth, leading to a loss of enamel. If this happens, you may need to go to the dentist for a filling. 

Read more about how to cut down on drinking.

Read more articles on how to stop smoking.

Eat right for a whiter smile

Some substances, foods and drinks can stain your teeth. Wine, cigarette smoke, tea and coffee are all teeth-staining culprits. Keep them to a minimum to stop your teeth becoming stained.

Your dentist or hygienist will be able to give your teeth a professional clean, which may help reduce the staining. 

If you want to find out about other options, such as tooth whitening, have a chat with your dentist.

Read more about tooth whitening

Common Q&As

Read the answers to the most common questions people have about dental health, including:

Page last reviewed: 02/12/2013

Next review due: 02/12/2015

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User871877 said on 12 May 2014

Great reminders for everyone as sometimes these simple lifestyle tips may be forgotten. We work with a lot of dentists on a daily basis, and one good tip is also to drink a glass of water after every meal. Water is vital for great oral health, acts as a natural cleaner and has the power to wash away bacteria and residue left on the teeth after eating.

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karon lees said on 19 October 2009

I am currently a dental nurse studying to become an oral health educator.
This is a brilliant topic as it is just what i am going to do for my oral health display at my work. Thanks for all the great info!!!

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thanks said on 26 March 2008

thanks for this....this has help me with my school work

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Anonymous said on 11 March 2008

I think this is a wonderfull thing it keeps every one in the shape and we are in psre learning about health and growing up

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