New research shows that six out of every ten people aged 55 and over in the UK regret not looking after their teeth in earlier life, with people living in the North East of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland the most likely to regret their past oral hygiene.

The findings have been published by leading charity the British Dental Health Foundation as part of National Smile Month - the UK's biggest annual campaign to improve the nation's oral health.

Around one in five people in the UK wear full or partial dentures and an estimated 2.5 million people have no natural teeth. Despite oral health improving significantly in recent decades many people born in the 1960s and earlier lived in an era when oral health education was not widely available and their oral health has suffered. In 1968 it was estimated that over a third of the adult population (37 per cent) had no natural teeth6 - over 10 million more people than current levels.

At the other end of the adult age scale, the Foundation's research has found that a significant number of younger people aged 16-24 are more image conscious about how their teeth look - more than any other age group. Two thirds (67 per cent) of 16-24 year olds say they are now more worried about how the teeth look compared to five years ago.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, says: "There is a very strong message from older people that not looking after oral health when young can lead to a lifetime of regrets. Our teeth and smile are important to many aspects of our life and cannot be taken for granted.

"It is interesting to note that younger people are the most image conscious age group when it comes to how teeth look and hopefully this will lead to more improvements in oral health in future generations.

"A good oral health routine needs to start from the arrival of the very first milk tooth and continue throughout life. Our National Smile Month campaign hopes to remind everyone about the three simple rules for great oral health: brush teeth for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste; cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks; and visit your dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.

"People who have lost teeth and who wear dentures also need to maintain high standards of oral health, especially to protect any remaining natural teeth. Dentures should be cleaned twice a day like normal teeth and kept moist at all times."