25/05/2016 08:25 BST | Updated 25/05/2017 06:12 BST

Smile! Caring for Your Family's Teeth is Essential for Health and Wellbeing

Nobody likes toothache, and for most people, the thought of having a tooth taken out by the dentist is enough to make them brush twice a day.

But there are lots of things that help improve oral health, including not smoking, watching how much you drink and eating a healthy diet, which will help to protect your general health as well.

Good oral health is particularly important for babies and children - and can help to ensure they have the best start in life.

If you have children it's important to know that poor oral health can affect their ability to sleep, eat, speak, play and socialise with other children.

Toothache or dental treatment can mean time off school and affect their ability to learn, thrive and develop.

At worst, tooth decay can lead to admission to hospital and tooth extraction under general anaesthetic.

In fact, tooth extraction is the number one reason why five to nine-year-old children are admitted to hospital.

A new oral health survey published this month showed a welcome drop in the number of five-year-olds with tooth decay to less than 25% - the lowest level in almost a decade.

This shows the impact that parents and carers can have in establishing good dental care habits from an early age. However, there is still a great deal of variation in oral health across the country.

For example, a third of five-year-olds suffer from tooth decay in the North West, compared with only a fifth in the South of England. And areas with higher levels of deprivation tend to have higher levels of tooth decay.

Public health professionals are working in lots of different ways to try to improve child oral health. This includes providing guidance for dental professionals and local authorities on improving oral health in local areas as well as creating a healthier environment that makes it easier for everyone to consume less sugar.

Everyone has a role to play in addressing how much sugar we consume as a nation - from health professionals to local councils, and from families to the food and drinks industry.

However, there are some simple tips that everyone can use to improve and maintain their oral health:

  • Use a family fluoride toothpaste (children under three years should use no more than a smear of toothpaste; children between three and six should use no more than a pea-sized amount)
  • Supervise children's tooth brushing
  • Brush teeth twice a day - last thing at night before bed and at least one other time each day
  • Spit but don't rinse after brushing - as this will wash away the fluoride and reduce its preventive effects
  • Limit the amount and frequency of consumption of sugary food and drink and try to keep to mealtimes only

It's really encouraging to see different groups from across society committing to take action on sugar - helping to tackle rising rates of obesity as well as the number of children suffering from tooth decay.

For example, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy was confirmed in the Queen's Speech last week to come into force in April 2018.

An evidence review by Public Health England said a sugar levy would help reduce children's sugar intake, as part of a package of measures including controls on advertising, marketing and price discounts on sugary products, as well as a call for manufacturers to reduce sugar in foods and drinks.

I wholeheartedly support the introduction of the levy - the first move towards the Government's child obesity strategy due later this year - though we recognise that it is not the only action that is needed to reduce sugar consumption.

There are also some great tools to help families eat less sugar. For example the Change4Life Sugar Smart app allows you to scan food and drink labels to find out how much sugar is lurking inside.

The Change4Life website also offers lots of information, advice and recipes to help families cut back on sugar.

Having healthy teeth is about much more than a nice smile - it's an essential part of health and wellbeing.