Image of podcast artwork. Please email for a link to listen to our professional podcast about caries.

Dental caries is extremely common. Just under one in three (31%) British adults have obvious tooth decay in either the roots or crowns of their teeth. 1

Despite this, awareness of dental caries remains low in the population. 2

New research we commissioned alongside Colgate gives us an insight into the population’s knowledge of caries. The key findings are:

The UK’s awareness around the factors that increase a person’s risk of dental caries is poor.  The below table shows which factors patients believe can increase their risk of tooth decay. 2

Knowledge about how to prevent caries is also concerning.  The graph below shows what patients believe are the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay. 2

There also seems to be confusion around the role of fluoride.  The table below demonstrates what patients believe fluoride helps prevent.  Nearly one-in-five (19%) do not associated fluoride with preventing tooth decay.

To reduce dental disease, it is important that patients are more informed and educated about tooth decay and the role of fluoride.  Dental professionals have a key part to play in the oral education of patients inside and outside of the practice setting.

Understanding the causes

Dental caries is the effect of a high-in-sugar diet and the absence of an effective oral care routine.  However, the underlying factors can be complex.  The motives behind an imbalanced diet and poor home oral hygiene could include:

  • Stress and depression. 3
  • Minimal interest in self-care or lack of daily structure. 4
  • Poor lifestyle choices. 5
  • Being on medication for long periods. 4
  • Limited social interaction. 6
  • Lack of support from family or friends. 7
  • Social economic status and/or financial ability to purchase oral health products. 5

While your care and caries treatment plans may remain the same for each root cause, patients may require further support depending on their individual circumstances.

Patients in high risk groups, such as the elderly or dry mouth sufferers also need to be aware that they may be at increased risk. 8  This can be pointed out during a remote consultation, if you are unable to see them in person, where you can draw up a treatment plan alongside your patient.

Knowing the benefits

Poor oral health is a contributing factor for many wider conditions and diseases. These include:

  • Erectile dysfunction. 12
  • Problems with pregnancy outcomes. 13

While highlighting these consequences is important, research shows that behaviour change is far more likely when reinforcing positive outcomes, rather than negative ones. 14

Whether you are discussing sugar reduction in a patient’s diet, talking about how influential brushing is, or describing why they are being prescribed high fluoride toothpastes, it is important to focus on the positives.

For patients with, or at increased risk, of dental caries, the benefits of good oral health include:

  • Having teeth that are strong, healthy and that are pain free.
  • No unnecessary surgery or treatment, that could also save them money.
  • Better gum health and fresher breath.
  • Social benefits and greater confidence.
  • A healthier body and better quality of life:
    • Lower risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer, dementia etc.

By understanding why your patient is suffering from dental caries you can make a more informed decision about what will help motivate them to make better changes. 14  

Education at home

While dental visits remain an important part of maintaining a patient’s oral health and controlling their caries, self-care at home is essential. 14  

It is important that patients are able to take responsibility and control for their own oral health as a preventive solution to combat oral diseases like caries.

To help them achieve this, dental practices will play an essential role.

To help patients prevent and manage caries, practices should provide them with information about:

  • An effective oral health routine, including brushing, interdental cleaning, mouthwash and sugar free gum.
  • The benefits and differences of oral health products.
  • Preventive solutions like fluoride toothpaste.

This advice can be routinely given during remote consultations, face-to-face appointments and caries risk assessments.

It can also be delivered digitally by email or social media.  Consider sharing infographics and videos, like the ones in our downloads area.  They are a highly effective way to pass on accurate information and maintain your relationship with patients outside of the practice setting.


  1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (2011) ‘Adult Dental Health Survey 2009’ first published 24th March 2011.
  2. Oral Health Foundation and Colgate (2020) ‘Dental Caries Research‘, UK, Broadcast Revolution, Sample 2,008.
  3. Mohammadi TM, Sabouri A, Sabouri S, Najafipour H. Anxiety, depression, and oral health: A population-based study in Southeast of Iran. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2019;16(3):139-144.
  4. Citation: Tredget J, Sze TW: (2019) Raising awareness of oral health care in patients with schizophrenia. Nursing Times [online]; 115: 12, 21-25.
  5. Sakki TK, Knuuttila ML, Vimpari SS, Kivelä SL. Lifestyle, dental caries and number of teeth. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 1994 Oct;22(5 Pt 1):298-302. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0528.1994.tb02055.x. PMID: 7813180.
  6. Smith JM, Sheiham A. (1979) ‘How dental conditions handicap the elderly’. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 1979;7(6):305–310 [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  7. Fontanini H, Marshman Z, Vettore M. Social support and social network as intermediary social determinants of dental caries in adolescents. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2015 Apr;43(2):172-82. doi: 10.1111/cdoe.12139. Epub 2014 Nov 21. PMID: 25413492.
  8. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Dry Mouth (NIH Publication No. 14-3174). National Institutes of Health. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  9. Sanz M, Del Castillo AM, Jepsen S, Gonzalez-Juanatey JR, D’Aiuto F, Bouchard P, Chapple I, Dietrich T, Gotsman I, Graziani F, Herrera D, Loos B, Madianos P, Michel JB, Perel P, Pieske B, Shapira L, Shechter M, Tonetti M, Vlachopoulos C, Wimmer G. Periodontitis and Cardiovascular Diseases. Consensus Report. Glob Heart. 2020 Feb 3;15(1):1. doi: 10.5334/gh.400. PMID: 32489774; PMCID: PMC7218770.
  10. Takeuchi K, Ohara T, Furuta M, Takeshita T, Shibata Y, Hata J, Yoshida D, Yamashita Y, Ninomiya T. Tooth Loss and Risk of Dementia in the Community: the Hisayama Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 May;65(5):e95-e100. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14791. Epub 2017 Mar 8. PMID: 28272750.
  11. Chapple IL, Genco R; working group 2 of the joint EFP/AAP workshop. Diabetes and periodontal diseases: consensus report of the Joint EFP/AAP Workshop on Periodontitis and Systemic Diseases. J Periodontol. 2013 Apr;84(4 Suppl):S106-12. doi: 10.1902/jop.2013.1340011. PMID: 23631572.
  12. Singh, Vijendra P et al. “Oral Health and Erectile Dysfunction.” Journal of human reproductive sciences 10,3 (2017): 162-166. doi:10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_87_17
  13. Sanz M, Kornman K; working group 3 of the joint EFP/AAP workshop. Periodontitis and adverse pregnancy outcomes: consensus report of the Joint EFP/AAP Workshop on Periodontitis and Systemic Diseases. J Periodontol. 2013 Apr;84(4 Suppl):S164-9. doi: 10.1902/jop.2013.1340016. PMID: 23631576.
  14. Public Health England (2017) ‘Delivering better oral health: an evidence-based toolkit for prevention’, Third Edition, UK.

This campaign is delivered by the Oral Health Foundation, a charity creating healthier communities by delivering better oral health. The campaign is sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive.