Dental decay is a process which starts with food debris and bacteria gathering on teeth to form ‘plaque’. Bacteria in the plaque use sugar from the diet to produce acid that destroys teeth. This results in dental decay (dental caries). You can reduce the disease by twice-daily toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste and having less sugar, less often. Limiting intake of acidic drinks is also important to prevent erosion (excessive wear) of the teeth.

Gum disease is the process where plaque bacteria cause damage to the gums and bone that support the teeth. There are two main gum diseases, called gingivitis and periodontitis. Some people are more likely to get these diseases, but good toothbrushing, cleaning between the teeth with floss, visits to the dentist or hygienist for scaling, and not smoking will help prevent them.

Oral cancer is cancer of the mouth, jaws or surrounding areas. There are about 500 new cases of the disease in Scotland per year. The dental team has an important role in finding problems early and improving the outcome for patients. They will also give advice on stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol, which are the main causes of oral cancer.

18% of adult Scots have no remaining natural teeth. The majority of those wear dentures to replace their missing teeth and some have implants to help improve stability of dentures or to support replacement teeth. For this group of patients, it is important to have a check-up at least once a year to check for oral cancer, signs of infection and other diseases and conditions which can affect patients who have no natural teeth.

Monitoring surveys between 1988 and 2003 have confirmed the poor health of Scotland’s school children. At the age of 5, over 56% of all Scottish children have dental disease. By the time they are 14 yrs, 68% of children have suffered from dental caries in their adult teeth. Dental disease can also be one of the signs of more general poor health and well-being. The Scottish Executive has set out a raft of proposals for improving the oral health of children and young people and has set a target of achieving, by 2010, 60% of children (a) at age 5 and (b) 11-12 year olds with no signs of dental disease. This will be monitored through the National Dental Inspection Programme. Improvements in oral and dental health and services for children are addressed through local inter-agency planning which includes the local NHS Board’s Integrated Children’s Services Planning Arrangements.