Let’s face it – dental care costs a lot. But the really expensive procedures tend to happen when you’ve neglected your teeth. So, to cut down on those dentist’s bills, it’s a good idea to start looking after your teeth every day.

Here are a few tips on how, and when, to do that.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day.

For two minutes morning and night, brush your teeth. That way you’ll manage to thoroughly clean all the surfaces – inner, outer and across the tops. You’ll have fresh breath in the morning, and clean teeth for going to sleep at night.

Use a soft-bristled brush or electric toothbrush, so you can also be massaging your gums without scraping them. Whatever kind of brush you use, be sure to replace it about every three months. Bent and broken bristles don’t clean properly, and can also damage your gums.

Don’t brush too soon after eating – food makes your mouth more acidic and your enamel softer. Wait about half an hour and then brush.

Brush your tongue – gently!

Because your tongue has an uneven surface – a whole lot of taste buds – food and bacteria can get trapped there. If you use a soft toothbrush, you can gently brush your tongue with it. Some brushes come with a special rubbery back just for this. Rinse your mouth afterward, to get rid of the stuff you brush off.

Floss your teeth every day.

With about 30cm of dental floss or a floss-pick, clean the surfaces between your teeth where a toothbrush doesn’t reach. These areas are easy places for decay to begin, which can result in expensive fillings.

Scrape up and down each side – that way, you get the trapped food and plaque your brush misses.

If flossing doesn't work for you there are other solutions that work and are similar, like interdental brushes or water flossers. It's best to get advice from your dentist on how to use these. 

You might have sore gums after flossing for the first time, or even bleed a little, but keep going. Your gums will get tougher and healthier very soon.

Try a mouthwash

If you’re really keen on full care for your teeth and mouth, something that lasts longer than just brushing alone, a mouthwash can help. Look for one with chlorhexidine or fluoride in it – to fight bacteria and remineralise your teeth, making them stronger in the fight against plaque.

Swish the mouthwash around your mouth for two minutes, and gargle with it to kill germs further down your throat. But don’t swallow it – it could upset your stomach.

Stop smoking, or don’t start

Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs and cardiovascular system – it’s bad for your gums and teeth too. You’re more likely to develop gum disease and mouth cancers if you smoke, and you’ll definitely get bad breath and stained teeth. Then you could be looking at a much worse scenario than just an expensive dental bill.

If you need help quitting, there are lots of options. Go to a support group, call a hotline, try nicotine patches or counselling, and stay away from situations (or people) that prompt you to smoke. Convince yourself you’re a non-smoker, and when you need motivation, think of your teeth as bright and white instead of nicotine yellow.

Fluoride for stronger teeth

Most dentists recommend that you use a fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash, but take note – it comes with a warning not to swallow it. Fluoride is often an ingredient in toothpaste because it has been shown to decrease tooth decay.

Children are more likely to swallow toothpaste. The swallowed fluoride can discolour their enamel, and if they swallow enough they could be very ill.

Avoid fluoride toothpaste for your kids until you’re sure they understand the dangers, and won’t swallow it just because it tastes minty and sweet.

Eat less sugar and add more crunch

Eating well is good for your whole body, and that includes your teeth and gums. Stay away from sweet stuff – it just feeds the bad mouth bacteria. Fizzy drinks, cake, ice cream and sweet coffee or tea are all high in sugar. Sticky foods – wine gums, muesli bars and dried fruit – are just as bad, because they leave a film of sugar on your teeth.

Instead, you can crunch down on an apple or carrot, capsicum, cucumber or raw nuts and seeds. These foods are great for scraping your teeth clean after or between meals, and they’re really good for you too.

Then there’s alcohol. It damages your enamel and promotes tooth decay, so try cutting down the amount you drink, if only to save on those dentist bills.

Go for regular dental checkups and hygienist visits

It might seem like backward advice when you’re trying to cut down your dentist bills, but a regular check and clean can save you a whole lot of pain and money in the long run. Your dentist can pick up on problems early and fix them faster, and you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that your home dental hygiene routine is working.

Your dentist will check for decay (sometimes using an X-ray), scrape away built-up plaque, and professionally clean all your tooth surfaces. You may decide to get a fissure sealant to help protect your teeth between visits.

Make hygienist appointments part of your routine

The ultimate in preventative care for your teeth is to have regular hygienist appointments. They have the best tools to give your teeth and gums a thorough and extensive clean, getting in places your toothbrush, mouthwash and even dentist can’t reach.

If you want to ensure the only dentist bill you’ll have is for a routine check-up, then make regular hygienist appointments part of your routine.  Once you start you won’t look back. After just one visit your teeth will never have felt cleaner. Regular visits are a small price to pay to keep the lengthy, expensive dental procedures at bay.

Feeling the pain? Go see your dentist now

If you have discomfort drinking hot or cold drinks, feel a loose tooth or notice a bad taste in your mouth, don’t wait until it keeps you up at night. You risk deeper infection and even the loss of a tooth – a problem caught early could be fixed with a lot less pain, stress and money.

For good health, your teeth need to last you the rest of your life. With all things, especially your teeth, prevention is the best cure - look after your teeth as long as you have them.