​A healthy mouth is important for overall health and well-being. Healthy teeth and gums play an important part on your quality of life, helping you smile, speak, eat, socialise and feel good about yourself.

Having a healthy mouth, teeth and gums may reduce your risk of chronic disease. Chronic diseases include conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory conditions. There are some population groups that are more at risk of oral and dental disease. For more information visit Integrated Oral Health.

NSW Health recognises the importance of promoting good oral health within your community and specifically for Aboriginal communities. This is achieved by working in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and local health districts. 

The main dental diseases

The main dental diseases are dental decay (dental caries), gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) and oral cancer. These diseases are mostly preventable. Understanding the cause of dental diseases and developing healthy habits can help you maintain your overall health and wellbeing.

Dental decay is the most common chronic disease across all ages. Bacteria live in the mouth and form dental plaque on the teeth and along the gum line. Eating sweet foods and drinks feeds the bacteria, producing acid in the mouth increasing the risk of dental decay and gum disease.

Gum disease is often caused by a build up of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gum disease is linked with a range of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and is linked to a high death rate. It is vital for you to stop smoking and reduce your alcohol use to lower the risk of oral cancer. A healthy diet with fruits and vegetables may also reduce the risk.

Role of saliva

Saliva is very important as it protects teeth and gums by clearing away food. When saliva flow is reduced, oral health problems such as dental decay and gum disease can develop. A dry mouth (xerostomia) indicates that you may not be producing enough saliva.

How to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy

Tooth brushing

Brushing your teeth, gums and tongue twice a day removes the plaque and reduces bacteria and acid levels in your mouth. Fluoride in toothpaste helps strengthen your teeth.

  • For more information see How to Brush.
  • Use a soft toothbrush with a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Spit out after brushing. Do not rinse with water, because a small amount of fluoride toothpaste left around the teeth will help strengthen them.
  • Use dental floss or interdental brushes to clean between your teeth every day.
  • Electric or battery operated toothbrushes can be useful as they have a small head and soft bristles.
  • Clean dentures every day with mild soap and a soft brush. Do not use toothpaste. 
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or earlier if bristles start to become shaggy.

Healthy eating

Choosing healthy foods contributes to good oral health and overall health and wellbeing.

  • Eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat healthy snacks that protect your teeth like cheese and low fat yogurt.
  • Limit foods high in added sugars, fats and salt especially between meals.

Drink water

Choose water, especially fluoridated tap water. It is free and protects your teeth from dental decay.

  • Water keeps you hydrated and helps to prevent your mouth from becoming dry.
  • Avoid drinks with added sugars (e.g. soft drinks, cordials, juice, sports drinks or energy drinks) as these increase the risk of dental decay.

Dental check up

Regular dental check-ups are important to make sure your mouth, teeth and gums are healthy. A dental practitioner can provide:

  • individual advice and treatment if there are any changes in your mouth
  • advice about tooth brushing techniques and the most suitable toothpaste to use
  • early detection or possible signs of oral cancer
  • advice on preventing dental problems that cause trouble eating, sleeping, attending school or going to work.

Visit the Information for patients page to see if you are eligible for free dental care in a NSW Public Dental Service. 

Aboriginal dental services

Some local health districts and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and (ACCHS) provide dental care for their patients. Each ACCHS may have different eligibility criteria and appointment processes for their dental programs. Contact your local ACCHS or your local public dental service to find out about services available to you.

Dental outreach services for older people

Some public dental services provide outreach services for older people living in residential aged care facilities. Contact your local public dental service to see if you are eligible for free dental care, and to find out about services available to you. 


Do not smoke. Smoking in any form, including cigarette, cigar, pipe, shisha and vaping, and whether tobacco or other substances, causes poor oral health and can increase the risk of gum disease and oral cancer, as well as stained teeth and bad breath

For more information see Smoking and your Oral Health 

Chewing tobacco products and chewing betel nut may cause poor oral health and can increase the risk of gum disease and oral cancer, as well as stained teeth and bad breath.

If you are thinking of quitting, visit iCanQuit or call NSW Quitline 137848 for advice and support.

Drugs and alcohol

Alcohol, prescription and recreational drugs can cause dry mouth, bleeding gums, teeth grinding, tooth loss, staining of teeth, bad breath and can lead to dental decay, gum disease and cancer. For advice and support visit Your Room.

Dental injuries

  • Accidents can cause dental injuries to the teeth, lips, gums, tongue and face. They can cause the teeth to move, crack, chip or be lost.
  • If an adult tooth has been knocked out - remain calm and try to find the tooth. If found store in milk/saline and present to the dental clinic as soon as possible.
  • If an injury occurs seek advice from a dental practitioner immediately. 
  •  Everyone is eligible to receive treatment for a dental emergency free of charge from NSW public dental services.
  • In an emergency, contact your public dental call centre, or attend your local emergency department.
Current as at: Friday 17 September 2021