How do I teach myself to brush my teeth?
August 1, 2010 1:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I teach myself to consistently brush my teeth?

I'm 18 years old, generally straight-laced, I'm otherwise hygenic, but I very very rarely brush my teeth. I'll use mouthwash every time I enter the bathroom, but I have real trouble bringing myself to brush my teeth every day. I figure this is something that I should have already ingrained in me, but I don't, so what do I do?

My main problem is that I really despise the feeling of the soft bristles on my teeth. I don't mind hard bristles, it's just the texture of the soft bristles. I also get really jeeved out by the feeling of paper towels or cloth against my teeth which I think is probably similar.

Any suggestions? I'd like a healthy mouth please!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Electric toothbrush? It's a very different feeling, and most dentists recommend them anyway these days.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:49 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really despise the feeling of the soft bristles on my teeth. I don't mind hard bristles, it's just the texture of the soft bristles.
So use hard bristles. Soft is generally supposed to be better for the gums, but hard is OK as long as you don't put a ton of muscle into it.

Yes, it should be ingrained into you, and so should flossing. Perhaps you could "teach" yourself through some game, like counting to 10 while brushing tonight, to 11 tomorrow after breakfast, 12 next time, etc., until you get to 100. Except that if you skip a scheduled brushing, you have to start over.
posted by beagle at 1:52 PM on August 1, 2010

I could send you a list of my dental bills and various procedures and tell you how they might have been avoided had I taken care of my teeth at your age. It's not just a theoretical problem. I can assure you that perio surgery feels a lot worse than soft bristles on your teeth.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:52 PM on August 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

Yes, get a Sonicare toothbrush: it's effortless to use (I brush my teeth in the shower after putting conditioner in my hair), and the results are much better. Your dentist will notice, too.
posted by halogen at 1:56 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

1. Create a routine. I had similar problems until I started up an ironclad morning routine that involves specific tasks to be done in a specific order (also helped with other time-management and not-being-late-for-work issues). They say that if you can stick to a routine for three weeks, it will become habit.

2. I got better about brushing when I started to have "mature" "adult" "intimate" "relationships". It helps to have to worry about what someone else thinks about your mouth.
posted by Sara C. at 1:57 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Flossing too - I keep a package of disposable flossing picks by my desk - when they're in front of me it's easier to remember to use them. And once I've flossed, my mouth feels kind of icky so I generally want to go and brush. N'thing electric toothbrushes, they're absolutely fantastic.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:57 PM on August 1, 2010

You could do what I did: neglect your oral hygiene until you've earned yourself a four-hour session of oral surgery to repair the damage. It worked. I'm now freaking religious about brushing as part of my getting-up and going-to-bed routine. And flossing.

Or, to take a less extreme approach, just force yourself to brush for 21 days. Once you've done anything for 21 days, it's a habit, and the "habit" part of your brain will take over, making it second nature. But yeah, those first few days will be tough.
posted by Dimpy at 1:59 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm disinterested in terrifying you, but have you talked to a dentist about your aversion? You may have extremely sensitive teeth, or you might just be a little hyperacutely aware of sensory stuff. They may know how to help you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:04 PM on August 1, 2010

Use toothpaste made for sensitive teeth (Arm and Hammer Sensitive tastes better than Sensodyne, FWIW.) When I was having some pain after fillings/a crown, the dentist recommended the special toothpaste and pointed out that regular use helps decrease sensitivity with time. It absolutely did.
posted by corey flood at 2:15 PM on August 1, 2010

Here's how I taught myself to brush my teeth.

Growing up, my oral hygiene routine was the same as my bathing routine: every Saturday night. That's right, once a week. When I got into high school I started bathing more, and when I realized how much a shower helped wake me up in the morning I started showering every morning. Neither my bunches of cavities nor the lectures from the dental hygienist persuaded me to brush my teeth regularly.

I hated the whole process: standing at the sink for the whole 60 seconds to brush my teeth was unbearable. Then, when I was 17 or 18, I overheard someone saying that they brushed their teeth in the shower "whether they needed it or not." This was new information to me - I didn't have to stand at the sink immobile for the brushing to happen, I could stand in the lovely hot water of the shower! I moved my toothbrush and my toothpaste to the shower caddy, and started brushing my teeth. I found the best time to do this in my showering-ritual is when my conditioner is sitting in my hair.

Now whenever I take a shower I get the urge to brush my teeth even if it's the second or third shower (because of the gym or other dirtying activities) I've had that day.

Just two or three years ago in the little baggie of crappy toothbrushes the dentist gave me was a Reach Flosser - a long handle like a tooth brush meaning I could floss in the shower. I've been using it since, and it's been great.

I'm 29 now, and I will admit that just this year I started brushing my teeth before I go to bed, and the reason I started was to encourage my partner to start brushing his teeth. I still hate standing at the sink to do it, but his teeth are worth it. We've even got the dog on this schedule and give her a Greenie when we are brushing our teeth. Which means when I grab my toothbrush at night the dog begs for her own toothbrush.
posted by rhapsodie at 2:26 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

What do you do? You brush your teeth.

You say that you "very, very rarely" brush them. Look, I don't mean to be unsympathetic. I really hate brushing mine too, and whenever I get depressed it's still the first thing to go. Good for you for trying to get help curing your aversion. Hopefully the wonderful suggestions you get from this thread will help you fix your technique, your materials and/or your feelings, and dental hygiene will be fun and effortless ever after. But until then, and even if that day never comes, you have to to pull yourself together, starting now, and just get to brushing your teeth. For the good of yourself and others. It is possible. And no matter how you feel about it, it's just not optional.

I'm also wondering why hard bristles are not a solution? What other issues are coming into play?

Good luck!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2010

I hate mundane routine things too but I view brushing my teeth as necessary as putting on clothes. It's just something I have to do, it's not optional. You wouldn't leave the house naked would you? I think if you start viewing it this way, it might start to sink in.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2010

I'm surprised there haven't been many people here who have chimed in to say they LOVE brushing their teeth. And at the risk of sounding mean.. grow the hell up and start brushing AT LEAST twice a day. You may not think much of it now, but in twenty years when you're going for your fourth root canal, you'll be asking yourself why you never just sucked it up and brushed and flossed properly. Brushing teeth feels goods and makes your mouth feel fresher, and believe me, PEOPLE NOTICE when you have bad breath, and THEY WILL TALK SHIT ABOUT YOU constantly if you have it.

Start brushing your teeth in the shower. Get a cup that will suction to the wall which you can hang a toothbrush on and small tube of toothpaste in. Brushing in the shower feels great and you can do it while your conditioner sets in. You may be blessed with strong teeth and no cavities so far, but this will all change very quickly and the older you get, the harder it will be to find women/men who'll want to make out with StinkMouth.
posted by ReeMonster at 3:44 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Here's what worked for me.

At your age, don't brush your teeth.

In a few years, teeth will break in half when you eat lollies. You'll get cavities, which will be painful and expensive to get fixed. You'll even have to half a root canal, and get a gold crown, which is REALLY painful, and REALLY expensive.

At 28, you'll start brushing your teeth, cause you're sick of going to the fucking dentist.

At 34, you'll marvel at how few teeth problems you've had since you started brushing your teeth.

Or you could spend 5 minutes and brush your teeth now.

If I were 18 again, I'd brush my teeth. In fact, the only two things I'd do differently if I were to start again would be to brush my teeth, and invest some money. Probably the money that I didn't donate to the dentist's boat fund.
posted by antiquark at 3:45 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I H-A-T-E-D flossing until my dentist gave me these gum sticks. Now I use them twice a day and my mouth is much healthier.
posted by cestmoi15 at 3:46 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

half = have, obviously. Strange typo...
posted by antiquark at 3:49 PM on August 1, 2010

Seconding the idea of keeping floss at your desk. I floss while reading metafilter . . . in fact, I just did!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:04 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Flossing is super-important! A dental hygienist once told me that if she had to choose between the two, she'd choose flossing over tooth-brushing. Take that as you will.

I floss in the evening while watching TV or whatever. I just keep the floss on the coffee table, sitting out in plain view to remind me. At some point in the evening my eye will fall upon it, and I'll think, "Oh yeah, I haven't flossed yet."

There's tons of different kinds, textures, flavors, materials, etc. Just grab a whole bunch and give them all a try until you find one you like. Floss is cheap!
posted by ErikaB at 4:11 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Call a dentist and find out what things like root canals and crowns cost. Call an oral surgeon and find out what it costs to remove an impacted molar. Find out what it costs for a bridge. Think about how you'd look if you lost 2 or 3 of the teeth infront of your mouth.

Remember, when problems with a tooth get to a certain point -- when the cavity is big enough -- the pain is excruciating.

Call a periodontist and find out what's involved in correcting gum disease.

Call a GP or a cardiologist and ask how gum disease contributes to heart disease.

Look, if you haven't been brushing or flossing for some time, you will almost certainly need to have some work done after you visit a dentist. That mouthwash you're swilling does hardly anything. E.g., whatever's wedged between two teeth is still there after mouthwash, and it is rotting and putting a hole in your tooth.

Advice: Get a decent electric toothbrush. Use it at least twice a day: After breakfast and before bed. Spend 2-3 minutes brushing. Buy a bunch of different kinds of floss. Floss before bed. Decide which floss you like. As you are new to flossing, your gums will bleed when you floss for a week or two. That's because not brushing has damaged your gums. Find a good dentist and make an appointment. Be prepared for unpleasant news. (And ask the hygeneist who cleans your teeth to explain how to brush and floss properly.)
posted by justcorbly at 4:21 PM on August 1, 2010

I have created a very tedious 2-month plan for you to develop the habit of brushing your teeth. This may sound ridiculous, but I am an incredible avoider and bad-habiteer, and this is what I have to do to get myself to develop a new habit:

1) Buy yourself a hard-bristle toothbrush and some toothpaste with a flavour you like (if you're not into mint, there are Tom's of Maine and other brands with a bunch of other flavours) Also get your favourite mouthwash.

2) Find a home for the toothbrush and toothpaste and mouthwash wherever you're most likely to use them (bathroom sink, usually, but some people brush in the shower, or even in another household sink.)

3) Once a day for a week, practice wetting the toothbrush and sticking it in your mouth for a second. Don't brush. Rinse off the brush and put it back. Use the mouthwash. Do this for a week. Do not skip ahead until the week is up.

4) During the second week, practice wetting the toothbrush and sticking it in your mouth TWICE a day. Morning and night. Don't brush. Rinse off the brush and put it back. Use the mouthwash.

5) During the third week, dab a small amount of toothpaste on the brush twice a day and put it in your mouth. Then rinse it off and put it back. Use mouthwash. FORCE yourself not to skip ahead until you've done this for a week.

6) Week four: twice a day, put toothpaste on the brush and brush JUST your front teeth for a few seconds. Try to find a way of brushing that feels most comfortable. Use mouthwash. Don't skip ahead until the week is up.

7) Week five: twice a day, put toothpaste on the brush and brush just one quadrant of your mouth -- upper right, upper left, lower right, or lower left. Use mouthwash after.

8) Week six: twice a day, put toothpaste on the brush and brush 2 quadrants of your mouth. Then use mouthwash.

9) Week seven: twice a day, put toothpaste on the brush and brush all 4 quadrants. Mouthwash.

10) Week eight: twice a day, put toothpaste on the brush and brush all 4 quadrants + your tongue. Mouthwash.

11) Extra credit: add flossing to your routine once a day. Use the quadrant system until you build up to flossing your whole mouth twice a day.
posted by Ouisch at 4:45 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

> just force yourself to brush for 21 days. Once you've done anything for 21 days, it's a habit, and the "habit" part of your brain will take over, making it second nature.

I've been depressed to the point of self-neglect, so I know a lot about poor dental hygiene. A few years ago I tried the following with success: I made a goal to brush and floss my teeth consistently every night before bed for three weeks. The only way I was able to do this was by using a small dry erase board to keep track of how often I took care of my teeth (among a few other goals) and I kept it by my computer. I won't lie, it was hard at first, but I promise you it does get easier after a week. Many nights I just wanted to go to bed, but looking at my chart and seeing the progress I already made was usually enough motivation to brush my teeth and "get it over with". I still use the dry erase board, by the way.

What also helps: Multitasking!

> I floss in the evening while watching TV or whatever. I just keep the floss on the coffee table, sitting out in plain view to remind me. At some point in the evening my eye will fall upon it, and I'll think, "Oh yeah, I haven't flossed yet."

> Seconding the idea of keeping floss at your desk. I floss while reading metafilter . . . in fact, I just did!

> Rhapsodie's idea of brushing in the shower while conditioning your hair.

All great ideas!
posted by Faraday Cage at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2010

I'll use mouthwash every time I enter the bathroom

What if you threw away your mouthwash? Take away that option for making your mouth feel clean and fresh, and replace it with whatever toothbrush is least unpleasant for you. Without mouthwash, you'll have to brush your teeth or live with a scuzzy-feeling mouth. Or, create a rule for yourself that you can't use mouthwash until you've brushed your teeth (this assumes using mouthwash is something you enjoy).
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:38 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recommend Crest Glide Deep Clean (cool mint flavored) floss. It tastes good, it slides easily between teeth, and it doesn't shred.
posted by Faraday Cage at 6:46 PM on August 1, 2010

Also, I like pre-strung flossers better than screwing with floss (my manual dexterity is, er, not so great), and I really liked the ones that look like little dinosaurs.

I'm not ashamed. These days, Mr. F and I go for the 100-pack of Walgreens floss tape ones (tape is wider than regular floss, and feels a little nicer), but the dinos were awesome when I was getting used to flossing.

You might also try creating obligation with a toothbrush subscription. If someone keeps mailing you a new toothbrush every three months, you'll want to use it regularly so it's all set to recycle when the new one shows up.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2010

like you (and like many posters above) i also didn't take care of my teeth during my college years and paid an unholy amount of money to fix my mouth (crowns, bridges, root canals, paychecks and paychecks...). but i don't think fear tactics are going to help you. the main thing that helped me was moving in with my tooth-brushing girlfriend, and copying her good habits. (also sometimes she may or may not have put the paste on my toothbrush, the brush in my hand, my hand up to my mouth...)

yes, you have to just do it, and once it becomes routine it won't be so bad. i still have days when i look at the toothbrush and experience a wave of aversion at the idea of bristles and toothpaste in my mouth. but i do it anyway. i think you have to accept that you won't like it but that it's important. the mantra of "just get it over with" that someone else mentioned is the kind of thing i tell myself. i always feel better afterward, and that's reinforcing. it will also help if you can link it to a habit that's already ingrained (brush while the water heats up for your shower in the morning, or while in the shower, as others have suggested) and make it non-negotiable.

you might also try buying a bunch of different kinds of toothbrushes to see what you like best. the feel of them varies a lot based on head size and bristle stiffness and how the bristles are clustered and arranged and cut. experimenting with toothpastes might help, too. the natural ones foam less, which you might prefer (less sensory overload in the mouth) -- or maybe you'd rather have very strong, rewarding mint flavor. i've used some natural toothpastes that create a squeakiness between the toothbrush and tooth that i find really satisfying.

it might also help to distract yourself during the tooth-brushing so you don't focus on the feel of it. brush in front of the TV/radio? or while listening to your favorite song? or at least singing it to yourself in your head?
posted by nevers at 9:55 PM on August 1, 2010

Minor suggestions: Try to make brushing/flossing less chore like. If you're a gadget person, find the Dyson of toothbrushes. If you're more earthy, look for "natural" care products like Peelu sticks or look up DIY mouthwash/toothpaste recipes. WaterPiks are fun, but I don't know if they're as good as floss.
Also, you might want to add things like a mouthwash that has fluoride to strengthen enamel, or one formulated to deal with gum disease or halitosis. Chew gum with Xylitol after meals if you can't brush.
posted by anotherkate at 11:13 PM on August 1, 2010

Be true to your teeth or they will be false to you. - Soupy Sales

I learned the hard way, as other have mentioned. A couple of root canals. Crowns. Horrible experience.

Once I started brushing in the morning and before I go to bed, plus flossing; my teeth are relatively healthy.
posted by rmmcclay at 2:31 AM on August 2, 2010

Nthing getting an electric toothbrush. I use one of the Oral-B Professional Care ones, and it works great. If you're okay with how it feels when you get your teeth cleaned at the dentist, you should really try some kind of electric toothbrush because it's pretty similar (and the bristles are stiff, for what that's worth).

The thing that really turned the tide for me (and yes, I was another of those who neglected my teeth for years and recently got them fixed - to the tune of over $10k) was discovering that I hated the way my teeth felt when I didn't brush them. Once I started brushing my teeth even once a day, with my new electric toothbrush, I realized that my teeth are actually smooth and pleasant to run my tongue along, rather than gross and furry like they get when I don't brush (or don't brush very well with a regular toothbrush). I don't know, it's just the same feeling that I used to get only after getting a cleaning at the dentist, without the overhanging threat of x-rays and cavities to be filled that made me otherwise hate to go. I didn't miss this when I wasn't brushing, but once I started back up that first time with the new toothbrush, I haven't been able to ignore the fuzz anymore. (Having to pay my own dental bills because dental insurance is a joke probably didn't hurt either..)

I'm still working on flossing regularly though; the little flosser stick things help some, at least, but I really do need to work on it. So acknowledging that you may have to take baby steps is okay too. Just do something. Teeth are something we take for granted that we really really shouldn't.
posted by ashirys at 7:38 AM on August 2, 2010

About flossing: If your teeth are very closely spaced, you want to get the "easy glide" type of floss. This makes all the difference. Growing up, I found flossing to be actually painful and difficult - the floss would stick and shred between my closely-packed teeth. They just hadn't invented "easy glide" floss yet. That easy-glide, shred-free floss is like night and day.

And yes, an electric toothbrush is the bomb.

Toothpaste: if you don't like the taste of regular toothpastes, Tom's of Maine is one to try - it tastes less harsh, and comes in yummy "CinnaMint."

Dental costs aside, think of this - the average gal or guy is going to cringe at kissing someone who doesn't brush his teeth regularly. No-one fantasizes about a man with bad breath and mossy teeth. You want a social/sex life, you better brush. You don't want to be known as "the guy with mossy teeth and assbreath" at work - you better brush.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:09 AM on August 2, 2010

Gross. Just do it.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:47 AM on August 2, 2010

Doing anything to music helps. Just brush and floss your teeth to your favorite songs and the time will pass like nothing, man.
posted by jdotglenn at 5:28 PM on August 2, 2010

I just thought of this thread, and flossed!

One thing I have learned about myself over the years, and with the help of the aforementioned super awesome hygienist, is that the foaminess of toothpaste makes me gag easily. Way to make a boring task actively unpleasant!

Most people are using a thousand times more toothpaste than they need. Just a teeny dab will do the trick. In a pinch, you don't really NEED toothpaste - just the bristles will do a great job on their own.

I also recently switched to a Tom's of Maine "SLS-free" toothpaste. Not only has it cured the chronic acne and skin irritation around my mouth, but it's also LOW FOAM! It acts like a paste, instead of a paste that turns into a frothy mouthful of minty grossness.

Obviously there are solutions to just about any dental hygiene-related problem. I think in your case it's going to be a matter of REALLY nailing down what it is you don't like about brushing your teeth. Guaranteed there will be a product or method that will fix it.
posted by ErikaB at 12:49 PM on August 3, 2010

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