How can I make sure that I brush my teeth every night?
May 14, 2010 4:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I make sure that I brush my teeth every single night?

I never developed a good tooth-brushing regime as a child.

(I didn't understand why toothbrushing was important, and I was rebellious, so I would pretend that I was brushing by scrubbing the bathroom bench instead to make the brushing sounds my parents expected to hear.)

Now I'm an adult with bleeding gums - seriously, if I bite into a banana, there will be blood on the banana - and my dentist has stressed to me that I really need to brush every single day, or I will lose teeth down the line.

Obviously, I really, really don't want that to happen.

He's also told me that gum disease = greater risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's.

So I really, really want to brush my teeth every night.

But I forget until I'm going to bed - and by that time, I'm so exhausted that I say to myself "I'm far too tired - I'll do it tommorrow."

Ideally, I would like to brush my teeth around 8pm or 8:30pm - that way I won't be too tired, but also I won't eat afterwards and mess up my nice clean teeth.

How can I remind myself to brush my teeth at 8pm? And how can I make myself stop whatever I am doing (watching a DVD, talking to a friend on the phone, whatever) and go brush my teeth right that instant?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can't you just set an alarm?
posted by HotToddy at 4:16 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

i have a sonicare brush, which is awesome and fun to use at first, because it's a new gadget! i brush religiously every morning and night, and the way i stopped skipping nights when i was tired was by just creating a habit. i made myself brush no matter what, and after about a month, i couldn't even dream about skipping a night, it felt physically weird to be drifting off to sleep with a dirty mouth. it would keep me awake. so i think ultimately it's just a matter of forming a habit.
posted by katypickle at 4:18 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Every morning, bring all of your pillows with you to brush your teeth. Leave them in the bathroom or just outside until you brush your teeth at night. You can't go to bed until you get your pillow, right?
posted by artychoke at 4:18 PM on May 14, 2010 [17 favorites]

Well, is there anything else you do routinely every night before bed that you can associate it with? (e.g., taking out your contacts or washing your face?)
posted by scody at 4:20 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you wash your face at night? I hated brushing my teeth when I was little, too. It gives me terrible chills whenever I do it or hear/see someone else do it.

Now, as an adult, I make sure I do it before I wash my face at night. I ALWAYS wash my face at night because I have acne, so I know if I do it right before that I'll always to it.

Add it to another must-do nightly ritual. Do you wear contacts? Anything else?
posted by Lizsterr at 4:20 PM on May 14, 2010

I know exactly what you mean! Some nights I fall asleep watching tv and am too tired to floss and brush as I walk to the bed half asleep, but I know I have to do it.

I've recently started doing what you mention, brushing earlier in the evening. I don't think though, that doing it exactly at 8:00 is going to work, you'll hate it because it will interrupt whatever it is you are doing. I'm trying to work it into my usual routine. I usually have a soda after work and it lasts me until about 8-8:30 and then I switch to water. When I get up to get the water, I stop and floss and brush my teeth. I can usually time it during a commercial break if I'm watching tv. By working it into my preexisting routine, I think I'll have more success with it.

So far it seems to be working.

If you don't have a very usual routine, use the alarm feature on your cell phone for a few days to get you in the habit.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could put a sign up by your bathroom mirror ("Brush your teeth!"--like this one, this one, or this one), so that when you're in there to shower or brush you hair or whatever, you see it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:29 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even though you should do it last thing before you go to bed, it would be an improvement if you added it in at any time. So, perhaps you could get yourself to do it EVERY time after lunch or dinner or when you first get home at night, plus later at night when you think of it?
posted by Sukey Says at 4:48 PM on May 14, 2010

Seconding scody - couple it with some pre-existing ritual. If you don't have one, start one.
posted by cashman at 4:51 PM on May 14, 2010

Tangentially related - my dentist, who is pretty awesome, firmly believes that Tom's of Maine and J/A/S/O/N toothpastes tend to be related to bleeding gums. I've never been a bleeder, but I switched to Tom's a couple years ago and bled like a stuck pig during my cleaning a few weeks back. YMMV, I suppose, but if you're using one of those it might be worth switching back to a mainstream toothpaste for a while.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:59 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sonicare helped me develop the habit you strive for. Even half asleep, it's easy enough to run it around your teeth, and the timing function makes sure you do it long enough without having to think. Also, I find a rinse with ACT and my mouth tastes better in the AM than after just brushing. Really though, Sonicare.
posted by Fortnight Bender at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2010

What helped me was to start brushing in the shower. It sounds weird but I find it quite nice, you really feel shower fresh. This obviously won't work if you don't like to take showers in the evening.
posted by Authorized User at 5:05 PM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can brush while watching a DVD (as long as you don't have company). If you usually watch something before going to bed then keep your toothbrush and toothpaste by the TV. Bring a cup of water, too. It's easy to pick up the toothbrush and start brushing while you watch and you won't have trouble pausing to go rinse your mouth, because you will really, really want to by that point.
posted by anaelith at 5:14 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I brush my teeth in the shower, after I shampoo my hair and put conditioner on it. My toothbrush (Sonicare) has a two minute timer, so it's perfect if you use a conditioner that you need to leave in for a couple of minutes.
posted by halogen at 5:17 PM on May 14, 2010

I brush my teeth every day as part of my morning routine. Any other time of day would make more sense, but like you I know it'd be too much of a hassle to manage every night. What helps me is that I'm very uncomfortable going out in public if I have not showered and brushed my teeth that day. Even if it's just to the grocery store or whatever. I feel icky. So I have to shower and brush my teeth in the morning (or on lazier weekends the afternoon) or I'd never leave the house. Perhaps developing a similar mild phobia would work for you?

I've been like this almost all my life and have had no cavities or gum disease. I used to also have flossing as part of my daily routine (really need to start again) and I'd think that would probably help your gums more than optimizing the time of day you brushed.
posted by serathen at 5:30 PM on May 14, 2010

I say to myself "I'm far too tired - I'll do it tommorrow."

Absolutely force yourself to do it anyway. It may be torture, but you'll gwet a habit and you'll learn to do it at a reasonable time. I went through a period of neglecting it and it caused lots of trouble.
posted by DarkForest at 5:34 PM on May 14, 2010

Be sure to floss too. You'll either thank me or kick yourself later if you don't.
posted by DarkForest at 5:38 PM on May 14, 2010

I was like that. Then my girlfriend (who eventually got to be my wife but it started with girlfriend) said she wouldn't kiss me if I hadn't brushed my teeth. So I had a choice. Keep skipping a few times here and there and lie to her, or just brush my teeth. I picked brushing. She was very happy.

Try to find someone that will keep you accountable. Let them smell your breath to prove it if they want to. Because you really don't want to lie to your friends about something so silly as brushing your teeth, do you?
posted by theichibun at 6:24 PM on May 14, 2010

Put your toothbrush on your pillow.
posted by yclipse at 6:27 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about setting a loud alarm that's in the bathroom? That way you have to go turn it off in the bathroom.
posted by radioamy at 6:44 PM on May 14, 2010

I used to have the same problem so I went with it's a website that tracks your habits daily via email.
I used it for thirty days and seeing the days pile up consecutively encouraged me to keep going.
I skipped some days which lowered my chances of success, but once i kept going at it until i brushed my teeth at night for thirty days without missing one, once the thirty days were up i no longer needed reminding.
posted by drea at 6:59 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

For me, it wasn't brushing so much as flossing. I never flossed as a kid -- never. By the time I was 35, I had such messed up gums that I needed major periodontal surgery to keep from losing teeth. As part of the follow-up from the surgery, I have to see the oral surgeon (or my dentist) every 3 or 4 months to have my teeth cleaned. Still, even with all that, I wasn't flossing every day. I couldn't get into the habit. Then, at one office visit, my dentist just sort of casually said (as part of the usual discussion about the importance of flossing), "I just don't understand how people can stand to have that crud between their teeth."

That one sentence changed everything for me. The idea of crud between my teeth was so disgusting to me that it inspired me to floss EVERY SINGLE DAY. That was about 10 years ago and my teeth and gums are in the best shape of my life. I still get them cleaned every 4 months to be on the safe side (it was extensive oral surgery!), but there's usually very little tartar for the hygienist to scrape off.

Maybe what you need is a mental image of tooth decay that's so disgusting to you that you'd always rather brush (and floss!) at night than not. Maybe you should look up images online of badly decayed teeth. Just keep one particularly gross image in mind and consider it the alternative to not brushing.
posted by rhartong at 7:23 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have to admit that I didn't used to be consistent about flossing. And nightly brushing might have been a tad hasty. When I finally got up the courage to see the hygienist she offered me no kind, helpful words, no forgiveness. You, she said, you are bleeding. You have gingivitis. And furthermore, there is nothing at all that you can do about it now. From this day forward the dye is cast. You have inflammation. It's a portal for diseases. Like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimers. Some day...probably sooner than you expect it, you are destined to die from one of these conditions. Once gingivitis sets in, it's all over for you. You can never go back to the life you once lived, the life of a person who doesn't have gingivitis. UNLESS you make an appointment for my cure. I can cure it with a painful and expensive procedure SCALING.

I thought about the cancer and heart disease. And I thought about the SCALING. And I thought about what she said about never going back to my virginal pre-gingivitis state.

And I decided to see if I could call her bluff. So that is when I started to floss every night. I went back to the hygienist a year and a half later. A different hygienist. And guess what! I don't have gingivitis any more. So take heart. And take floss. And use it. You can get over gingivitis on your own.
posted by the barbarita at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, after thousands spent on a root canal, followed by thousands (at this point the insurance was exhausted) on getting deep cleaning for hours for my entire mouth, plus the cavities...YEAH, YOU BET I DO IT NOW.

Set an alarm on your phone, or in whatever room you're likely to be in at night. Pick a time before sleepiness, but preferably a time when you're not majorly distracted. After dinner if you have to. At least managing to do it half the week will improve your situation at this point.

Also, THE GUILT and the money you'll be spending on bad teeth will shame you after you go through massive dental work. You'll get home at 1:30 in the morning, want to go to bed, and still scour the crap out of your mouth for ten minutes when you think about all that dental work.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:50 PM on May 14, 2010

I agree with the suggestions that say don't limit when you brush your teeth while you are still trying to get in the habit of brushing them at all. Brush when you get home from work, or when you're watching TV in the evening. Brush them at 3:00 on a Saturday. It's great to brush your teeth right before bed, but it sounds like your gums are in such bad shape that anything will help (and I'm not judging - oh, how much money I have spent at the dentist... a fortune!). So brush your teeth when you think about it. Anything that makes flossing and brushing part of your day, even if it isn't at an optimal time, will benefit your gums. I also love my Sonicare, because it's very gentle.
posted by studioaudience at 8:55 PM on May 14, 2010

First and foremost: Quit being so picky about your brushing time!!! When you're not doing it at all it doesn't freaking matter what time of day you do it! Just do it!

Like you I never got into the habit of brushing at all when I was a kid. I tried a bunch of stuff to get to start brushing, but everything failed until I tied it to my morning shower. I put a toothbrush and toothpaste in there right next to the shampoo, and immediately I brushed at least once a day. It was part of my morning "getting everything clean" routine. Eventually I managed to brush and floss twice a day and now my dentist, who one said he was going to name his boat after me, complains that I'm putting him out of business.

And while you're brushing, floss. Flossing takes less time than brushing but makes your brushing twice as effective.

But seriously, brush. It doesn't matter when.
posted by Ookseer at 9:09 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I brush my teeth with a dry toothbrush while I am watching TV. Then I floss, still while watching TV. Then I brush a little with some toothpaste in the bathroom. I never got into the habit when I was a child (hippie parents). I started brushing when I was 16. I find that if I brush at the same time while watching TV it becomes a habit that I do not forget. The thought of losing my teeth is enough to keep me brushing. My dentists have told me I have very clean teeth, I very rarely have to have them professionally cleaned.
posted by fifilaru at 10:07 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post a really gross picture of rotted teeth above your bed or on the way to your bed. It will serve as both a reminder and as motivation to go back and brush them.

Remember to floss, too!
posted by Jacqueline at 10:38 PM on May 14, 2010

Also, you only have to force yourself to do it every night for a month or so and then it will become an automatic habit.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:40 PM on May 14, 2010

CrayDrygu: Also, allow yourself to be imperfect. Missing a day isn't great, but it's not ruinous - brushing three days in a row is already an improvement after all, isn't it?

If you're having trouble because you keep telling yourself "I'm far too tired - I'll do it tomorrow," then I wouldn't follow the above advice. If you let yourself miss a day, you can let yourself miss another, and then another. If you tell yourself you have to do it, and to it every night, then that could help you avoid skipping.
posted by JiBB at 11:13 PM on May 14, 2010

Do it after you have dinner. You shouldn't be that tired at that point, and hey, it stops random later night snacking!
posted by grapesaresour at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2010

Put your toothbrush and toothpaste in the kitchen next to the sink. Clean your teeth after every meal with all your other eating implements. (I was more or less forced to do this when sharing a single bathroom with 3 others.) Better than that, try to force yourself to brush your teeth every time you're in the bathroom. Tell yourself "I'm already here, might as well get it out of the way in case I forget later."
posted by K.P. at 4:03 AM on May 15, 2010

if you have a phone that allows you to customize an alarm - download the sound of a dentist drill into an alarm sound and have it go off every night before you go to bed. When I'm lying down and too tied to get up and brush and floss I imagine that sound and it works every time. Fear is a great motivator.
posted by any major dude at 7:55 AM on May 15, 2010

Not necessarily to the OP but responding to some of the inthread comments:

It is generally a bad idea to brush your teeth right after eating.

Use a toothpick, flush some water around to clean out any food particles, but don't immediately brush your teeth.

Eating softens the enamel on your teeth and brushing immediately can wear it away.

Multiple sources, but here is Colgate telling you not to brush for an hour after eating.
posted by GregorWill at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2010

I read something recently on using really small baby steps in order to implement a new habit, tied in with the "3 weeks to form a new habit" idea. They specifically used the example of flossing. The first week, you simply force yourself to open and close the cabinet door and look at the floss. That's it. The second week, you open the cabinet and take out a piece of floss. You don't use it. Save it for next week. Then the third week, you actually have to floss. It does sound silly (I mean, why take out the floss if you're not going to use it?) but when you're telling yourself that you're too tired, it's easy to say "aw it will only take me a second to get out this floss" and that kind of eases you into it.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:55 PM on May 15, 2010

Brushing once a day is not enough. But brushing once is better then not brushing at all. You MUST also floss every night as well, your probably better off flossing then brushing.

Here's what helped me start flossing religiously: floss after brushing, and look at the gunk that comes out of your teeth after you think they are clean from just brushing. If it's difficult to slide in and out, use easy slide or glide kind.

I also recommend a Sonicare, after the two minutes is up, I usually go for another two because it's just so easy and so easy to clean the back teeth. It's hard at first to use a Sonicare, but stick with it because it becomes natural after you get accustomed to it.
posted by glenno86 at 7:21 AM on May 16, 2010

I give myself a gold star on the bathroom calendar every time I floss. Literally, a gold star sticker stuck on the calendar. No flossing, no star.

When I mentioned this to my dad, he said, "Yeah, I find it's not so much that I want to look at the calendar and see a stretch of days with stars, as it is I don't want to look at the calendar and see a stretch of days without stars."

And you know conventional wisdom about how it takes 40 days to create a new habit (or break an old one)? Not true, in my experience. It took months of flossing irregularly and keeping track of it before flossing started to be a semi-automatic thing. At this point, it's mostly automatic — I rinse my toothbrush and put it down and pick up the floss without even thinking about it — and I don't go through the mental debate every time about Do I want to floss? I know I should, but I don't want to. But I need to. But... etc.

Honestly, just getting rid of that debate made it a lot easier. A Zen teacher whose work I follow says "Willingness is what's there when you don't want to. You might not want to get up at two AM to feed the baby, but you do because it needs to be done and you're willing to." Once I stopped having the conversation about "Do I want to? Do I not want to?" it got a lot simpler. "I'm going to floss, because that's what I decided to do." No question, no debate.

Whatever you decide to try, remember that you won't be 100% successful. Changing habits takes time, and inertia/conditioning will try to persuade you that any slacking or backsliding is proof (PROOF!) that you're a hopeless failure and should just give up now. Ignore this voice; it is lying to you and absolutely not on your side.
posted by Lexica at 4:51 PM on May 16, 2010

I'm also a less than regular tooth-brusher, (luckily not at the bleeding gum stage, but I've been scolded by dentists in the past). The thing that I found works was not setting a particular routine, but keeping a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss both at home and at work, so I can brush after meals or wherever my mouth feels ucky. I still don't always remember to brush before bed, particularly if I'm coming home late. But I always do it after lunch and often after morning coffee.
posted by Kurichina at 8:08 AM on May 17, 2010

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