Tooth Care
March 28, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Please help me brush my teeth more regularly. I have a lot of shame about this issue, so please be gentle.

Currently, I brush my teeth about 2-3 times a week and I never floss. My gums bleed when I do brush my teeth. I have a huge amount of shame about my lack of regular teeth-brushing (I'm dirty, gross, etc), so I haven't talked to anyone in person about it.

My goal is to brush and floss my teeth twice a day.

Here's a little bit of history:
- I used to brush twice a day and floss once a day.
- Then I was actively bulimic and depressed, and I stopped both (brushing immediately after purging is damaging to your teeth). Also I didn't care.
- I never purge anymore, and I am not currently depressed. But, I am out of the habit of brushing.

I'm not quite sure why I don't brush/floss. Part of it is habit. I literally forget about half the time. I have tried to associate brushing with putting in/ taking out my contacts, which I do every day, but that hasn't worked for me (maybe because that's so quick?). I have tried to associate brushing with washing my face, which I do most mornings and most evenings, and that works a lot better; I usually remember to brush, though I don't always actually brush. So, the problem is not just habit - I also have some sort of resistance to actually brushing my teeth. I really don't know why.

I go to the dentist approximately twice a year. I get about one cavity a year, maybe less. The last time I was there, they said my teeth were basically fine and that my gums did not look good.

I am in therapy (due to the eating disorder / depression) and I trust my therapist completely. I haven't brought this up with her due to both the shame and the fact that it seems unrelated to what we generally talk about. I think I could muster up the courage to talk to her about it if the consensus is that it would be helpful.

I am looking for advice/ tips on how to establish a teeth brushing and flossing routine that I actually stick to.

Please don't tell me how important brushing and flossing is: I KNOW. Please don't attempt to shame me into brushing/flossing: the amount of shame I feel actually is one of the factors that prevents me from brushing.

I saw this related question, and it was reassuring to know that I'm not the first person who has struggled with this.
posted by Why hello, I am a sock puppet to Human Relations (67 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Do you shower every day? If so, keep a toothbrush in there. At least then you'll be assured of one brushing daily.

If you want to go REALLY crazy, get an oral irrigator that attaches to your showerhead. Then you'll have a brushing AND a flossing out of the way.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:55 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm terrible about flossing and one thing I've found helpful is to keep a bag of floss picks at my desk at work. Then when I'm sitting at the computer I can just chew on one. My coworkers don't care but if yours do you could always go into the bathroom. They're not as great for molars as regular floss but I figure it's better than nothing.

Also maybe something like the Joe's Goals website to help you have a visual reminder of needing to floss? I have it on there for me too!
posted by brilliantine at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm terrible about flossing and have had to have the "deep cleaning" twice in the last 5 years because of it. What has helped me floss more is to do it earlier in the evening, instead of right before bed when I'm usually so tired I don't care anymore. So, I'll floss after I eat dinner, and then just brush before I go to bed.
posted by sacrifix at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2012

Brush gently, for one thing. It doesn't take a lot of pressure.

I brush before I leave the house, or are about to receive guests in the morning. And right before I go to bed.

You could set a sign up on the door so you see it before you leave, and a sign by your alarm clock.
posted by Mercaptan at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2012

I think it would be helpful to talk to your therapist about this simply because it is something that is clearly causing you some stress; thus, it is important to your overall therapy to get it out there on the proverbial table. Your therapist is not going to judge you.

Aside from that, you have to find a way to make brushing part of your routine. Easier said than done. But, once it is routine, you won't give it a second thought.
posted by AlliKat75 at 12:59 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Outside of the ED, I was in your shoes until rather recently. I was just averse to doing it and I had no idea why; it had always been like that even though people definitely noticed and it made me feel shitty.

I actually did bring this up with my shrink and he just effortlessly slotted it as a symptom of what we were working on. Until he actually laid out for me how it related to, well, other relevant stuff, I didn't grasp how glaring of a similarity it was. After that, I just started forcing myself to brush twice a day, and it was easier going because I knew exactly what was keeping me from doing it, and how doing it would help not just hygiene-wise but with my general psychological and emotional well-being.

The lack of real consequences -- yeah, bad gums, whatever, you've been dealing with those for how long? Right. -- keeps you from doing what you need to do. When you create a circumstances wherein brushing your teeth is fixing something, you'll want to do it.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, I think the therapist is worth talking to about this as it does seem related to issues of the past- you day yourself that shame prevents you from doing it as you would like- that sounds quite clearly therapeutic material. Well done for outing yourself here and from an oursider's perspective i would say that this is not so shocking and not shameful. You are not lazy about hygiene (you have other good routines) not are you inconsiderate or others- you are actively attempting to change this. The contempt sometimes directs at people with a habit like this is reserved for those who cannot make those claims! Be bold, and good luck.
posted by jojobobo at 1:01 PM on March 28, 2012

Putting the toothbrush or floss physically on top of whatever you use to wash your face might be a quick-and-dirty behavior modification technique. If you have to actually set the tool you don't use regularly to get to the tool you do use regularly, it makes you think. (At least, that's what I did with floss--I put it on top of my toothbrush so I couldn't forget it easily.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

At night, I have 3 things I have to do before I can get into bed:
1. Take out contacts
2. Brush teeth
3. Wash face

No matter how many years I've done it for, I still sometimes stand in front of the sink and dread the "brush teeth" part BECAUSE IT TAKES SO LONG!! So you're not alone.

Mornings, I try to make it the last thing I do before I leave the bathroom, because otherwise I think of meeting my coworkers with gross morning breath and that usually does the trick.
posted by jabes at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with the "keep floss picks in convenient places" trick - although it may seem like putting the cart before the horse to floss when you're not brushing, I find that once I've flossed, I want to brush because the floss dislodges all kinds of gunk. I keep flossers in my office desk, in the side table near where I watch TV, and next to my bed.

Otherwise, since tying the brushing to your contacts routine isn't working, is there some other routine you could add it on to? The shower is a good suggestion, but after lunch could be good too if you can brush at school/work.

And I agree, talking to your therapist about this is probably not a bad idea, especially since your ED contributed to the establishment of the bad habit.
posted by mskyle at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2012

I also have some sort of resistance to actually brushing my teeth. I really don't know why.

Makes sense to me, given the shame and physical pain (bleeding). Make the brushing gentler (start with once a day, with a very soft-bristled brush, and brush gently and carefully). Try and establish some positive associations with oral hygiene -- choose good-tasting toothpaste, listen to a favorite song while brushing, etc.
posted by jon1270 at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have a toothbrush with a small head, with "Soft" bristles? The small brush-head can help make it more comfortable if you have a smallish mouth, and dentists recommend soft bristles to prevent hurting your gums.

Do you have a "flavor" or type of toothpaste that is okay for you? Maybe you don't like mint - you could try one in another flavor like cinnamon or fennel?

Can you change where you keep the equipment? Keep it someplace that makes you notice it?

Could you try something like keeping a chart at your bedside, and when you go to bed every night you check a box for "I brushed at least once today"... and when you have checked the box for say 4 days in a row, you get a special reward, and when you've checked it for 10 days in a row you get a better reward, and so on? Keep the focus positive - you get rewards for keeping a good streak going. If you've forgotten, and you look at that chart at night, all it takes to keep the streak going is to go back into the bathroom and do it; so easy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have an Oral-B electric toothbrush, which is more efficient than a regular toothbrush, and more fun. It cost about $30 at CVS.

Definitely bring up the resistance with your therapist.

To stay on target with oral hygiene, I just try to keep in mind that I'll have nasty health problems down the road if I don't brush and floss regularly. I've been told that poor oral hygiene can have health consequences beyond lost teeth and bad gums.

That does it for me, but I don't have the resistance issue (although I can get lazy!)
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:04 PM on March 28, 2012

Also, if you have issues with toothpaste, switching to Tom's of Maine toothpaste can help. It's a lot milder in flavor and less intense feeling than Crest, et. al.
posted by griphus at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: For some reason brushing my teeth and flossing has always felt like a chore to me. I've gotten much more diligent about it since switching flavors of toothpaste, getting a softer toothbrush head and trying out different flosses to find ones that make it seem a little more tolerable.

Is it possible you haven't found products you actually like using? Maybe it would help to switch to a softer head or a kids toothbrush (or even a Sonicare) or different flavor? I found that I really liked the Toms of Maine fennel toothpaste when I started addressing my problem. It was different enough tasting from "normal" toothpaste to help me disassociate it from my prior dislike of tooth brushing.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2012

Why not post a little note in your bathroom mirror that you will see every morning? It doesn't have to be "BRUSH TEETH," it could be something like "SMILE" that is a reminder to brush your teeth.

I read somewhere that poor oral hygiene is connected with depression and low self-image. This is really vague in my memory, but it was an article about how people suffering from long term depression often need serious dental work because that form of self-care -- good oral hygiene -- falls away in the midst of depression. So, I do think you should talk to your therapist about it.
posted by jayder at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have always hated brushing my teeth even though I know how important it is for my overall health and hygiene. It was just one of those dreaded tasks that I avoided if at all possible. A friend suggested a Radius toothbrush and I've been excellent about brushing since the first time I used it.

I'm not sure if it was the combination of spending a little bit more for a toothbrush than I was accustomed to or if it was the great way it made my mouth feel when I brushed, but it has worked and the habit has stuck.
posted by BrianJ at 1:07 PM on March 28, 2012

How about making sure you always have a toothbrush and toothpaste available, with travel-sized versions at work and in your purse?

Also, you can probably use your cell phone to set reminders to yourself to do it at around the usual times in the morning, after lunch, when you get back from work, and/or at night, or wherever it makes the most sense for you to do it.
posted by alphanerd at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2012

Are you at all a tech/gadget fan, or maybe just like shiny new things? My love of new things caused me to buy a nice electric toothbrush, so I got into the habit of brushing for the full two minutes because it had a timer on it. Maybe something like that, or an oral irrigator might be enough of a novelty to get you started on the habit.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2012

I went through a period of poor dental hygiene due to depression and it cost me a tooth. I am much better about it now, but not perfect. I try to remind myself how good it feels to have clean teeth (and a clean tongue). It can even help me get up in the morning if I have a relatively clean mouth from the night before.

I use floss picks when I floss my teeth. It makes it much easier and convenient and I find myself flossing much more often as a result. I will even prioritize flossing over brushing sometimes, because it feels good and gets teeth really clean. My gums bleed if I don't floss regularly, but even when they do bleed it doesn't hurt, so I try not to worry about it too much.

I still probably don't brush 7 days a week, sometimes I am lazy and will just go to bed or rush out of the house in the morning without brushing. But I do floss almost as often as I brush. I have come to enjoy it. Sometimes I'll fall out of the habit and go a week or more without flossing, but I try not to beat myself up over it as long as I pick it up again. The most important thing for me is to keep thinking about how much I like having a clean mouth, rather than how important or serious the issue of dental care is. It's a more positive approach that helps to keep me motivated.
posted by grog at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2012

I got a sonicare which makes me brush for the full two minutes, and I just made myself get into a habit of brushing my teeth after I drink coffee in the morning and before I go to bed. This brush divides the time into 30 second increments so you brush each quadrant of your teeth and then it beeps and you move to the next.

When I try to brush with a regular toothbrush I am careless and probably brush for less than 30 seconds total.
posted by fromageball at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I hated brushing my teeth.

My parents tried to beat it into my head that I should brush, but whether it was an act of defiance or something else, I took that attitude into my early adulthood. I have friends who have eating disorders because their parents pushed food too hard, and I kind of understand how they feel.

Through my rough and tumble twenties, I brushed occasionally, and flossed even less. Why floss if you bleed every single time? Then my GF's roommate got a job at a dentists office, and I got cajoled in for an appointment for getting my wisdom teeth out. I had cavities, two broken teeth, residue from the braces I had as a teen, the whole shebang.

Several thousand dollars later, I have a great smile, even teeth, two crowns, and love the feeling after I brush my teeth. FWIW, I use baking soda toothpaste. That snappy clean feeling my whole mouth has after I brush is incredible.

Additionally, a friend of mine gave me some awesome picks that clean out that hard to reach area between my teeth. My current dentist commented that my flossing has gotten better, although I really don't floss that much. Love those picks.
posted by Sphinx at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: I am in therapy (due to the eating disorder / depression) and I trust my therapist completely. I haven't brought this up with her due to both the shame and the fact that it seems unrelated to what we generally talk about.

Listen to griphus. Also note a couple of things: 1) If you trust your therapist, that is the place where you work on issues that cause you shame. Seriously. For real. Both you and your therapy overall will get so much out of this if you bite the bullet and share. 2) It doesn't matter what you normally talk about; it's your therapy session for whatever.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would totally splurge on a Sonicare! The fun and ease of it alone seriously helps my dental habits. I hate brushing, I love Sonicaring!

I also nth the advice of the floss picks - I might literally never floss weren't for them sitting by my desk, by the TV, by the computer.....
posted by tristeza at 1:19 PM on March 28, 2012

I am often very flossing resistant, particularly when it hurts or makes my gums bleed - I feel like my teeth are very tight together, and stuff like those floss picks stick between my teeth and hurt and are really unpleasant. I've really had to splurge on the fancy Glide-type floss to make it less painful. Also, I've found that going from not flossing to trying to floss daily is too much too quickly - maybe try flossing once a week and working up from there?

I also agree that I find it easier to floss after dinner but not immediately before bed - I am too tired to want to deal with it then. Sometimes I'll also keep floss in the living room and floss while watching TV - it's kind of gross if other people are around, but if you have the privacy, why not?

I also read or walk around the apartment while brushing (I use an electric) - I find standing at the sink tedious and boring, so it helps to have a distraction.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 1:22 PM on March 28, 2012

I am looking for advice/ tips on how to establish a teeth brushing and flossing routine that I actually stick to.

I feel like half of my answers in AskMe have the words "Health Month" in them, but while you continue to deal with things in therapy, Health Month is a great place to develop new habits, and the MetaFilter team is awesomely supportive. Three rules or less is free, and there is a new game starting up on April 1, so your timing is fantastic.

However: there are a lot of people on HM with diet/food rules, and I appreciate that could be triggering for you, so if you want to skip Health Month, I would totally understand. But the creator of Health Month has a new site,, which sends you text messages gently reminding you to do things like floss. Perhaps something like that might work?
posted by ambrosia at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2012

For me it helped to brush the very first thing in the morning, so it happens before my brain wakes up enough to protest, and I can stare out of the window while brushing and try to wake up.
posted by randomnity at 1:28 PM on March 28, 2012

Toothpaste and toothbrush in the shower. I went through a stage where I pretty much just got out of the habit of oral hygiene, so I know where you are coming from and putting what I needed in the shower got me back in the routine again. Most mornings I am standing in there trying to wake up anyway, so if I'm brushing my teeth too it feels less wasteful of water, and as I'm multitasking the toothbrushing doesn't feel so boring. Also keep your tooth cleaning stuff out in the open where you can see it if it's in the cabinet I forget to do it too. If nothing else if you clean your teeth in the shower it is getting done once a day which is way better than not at all.

Also scatter packets of floss picks everywhere. I hate one use items but those babies are the only way I'll floss, you can get little brushes too instead of floss if floss annoys you like it does me. They work out pretty expensive though.

Think about a good electric toothbrush and tell your therapist about it.
posted by wwax at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing an electric toothbrush. It's easier to manipulate than a traditional toothbrush, does a better job, and can go in the shower if that's easier for you to do. I used to have bleedy gums, but that's all in the past now.
posted by LN at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2012

Buy 4-5 toothbrushes and put them throughout your house -- shower, bathrooms, kitchen sink, laundry room if there's water in there.

Use them whenever you're waiting for something -- hot water in the shower, water to boil, microwave to finish. Even if you're about to eat, or you only do it for 30 secs. It'll add up. Even if you don't have toothpaste in every room.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:44 PM on March 28, 2012

I don't do this while brushing, but while doing another routine chore: (this sounds so cheesy I am hesitating to even type it) I practice gratitude. While I am doing this chore, I think of things that happened today (or that influenced my day) that I am grateful for. I usually think of four or five. It's good for my mental health overall, but it's also so calming that it makes the chore itself a restorative (rather than frustrating) part of my routine.

Also, flossing technique. Consider asking your hygenist to help you floss the fake teeth at the dentist and help you with your technique. I was well into adulthood before I realized that I was not supposed to just *twang* the floss down in there, slamming it into the gum, and then yanking it out. Rather, I am supposed to *ease* the floss down the side of one tooth, gently polishing as I go, then gently polish up the side of the other tooth. Takes longer, but is *soooooo* much more pleasant that it transformed me into a much more regular flosser.
posted by Ausamor at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was terrible about flossing until my hygenist, bless her soul, told me how much oral care can impact my life in my advanced years.

The thought of being old and having miserable pain in my teeth from not flossing made me jump right in, and it feels to good when I floss and so gross when I don't that I keep doing it.

Now, I don't hold myself to flossing every day. I know that's the ideal, but once every two days works well for me, and I've definitely noticed an improvement in my gummies.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2012

I am in therapy (due to the eating disorder / depression) and I trust my therapist completely. I haven't brought this up with her due to both the shame and the fact that it seems unrelated to what we generally talk about.

Like griphus, I think this could be centrally related to the issues you are in therapy for.

Specifically, I'd guess that brushing your teeth threatens to reactivate your bulimia.

I have a lifelong aversion to throwing up regardless of circumstance, and I hadn't for about 25 years, but last year I had an illness that caused me to throw up convulsively and at length every time I brushed my teeth for about six weeks.

Now I can feel myself quelling the urge to purge whenever I brush, and the strange thing is, I remember the urge from before I got sick too, but then I didn't recognize it as the beginning of throwing up, and now I do.
posted by jamjam at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2012

For flossing: Reach Total Care Floss may also be helpful. It looks bizarre -- it's a sort of thin, mildly stretchy, plastic-y tape rather than the more usual waxed fiber. Much more comfortable to use. I also find the bright color of the floss lets you clearly see the ick you're removing as you floss, which is very motivating.
posted by pie ninja at 2:03 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: Nthing the SonicCare, the built-in timer shifts your perception of brushing from "Oh gawd, can I stop now, my hand is getting tired." to "Yay, it beeped and I'm done already!"

I hate using string floss (because I'm a wimp and it hurts when floss digs into my fingers) so I use flossers. However, not boring white flossers but these candy-colored ones shaped like dinosaurs (today, a T-rex picked my teeth). And I leave them in my car and floss while stuck in traffic. Yes, I'm sure I'm occasionally grossing out people in adjacent cars but I'll never see them again so to heck with them, they don't have tooth dinosaurs.

Finally, the Oral-B Hummingbird toothpick, oh how I love this thing. It's sort of a little vibrator for your gums, it's quite addicting. Use the toothpick head instead of the flossing head, leave it by your keyboard and you'll have spent a half hour vibrating away before you know it.
posted by jamaro at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I keep the container of floss on the couch in the living room so while I'm watching TV, I can mindlessly floss. I'm not going out of my way to do it and it doesn't seem like a chore. I don't know what it is about brushing my teeth, but I hate doing it even though I brush my teeth twice a day so I can understand your aversion to it. I also used to be bulimic so there's that too.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:05 PM on March 28, 2012

Oh, I see I mentioned the Hummingbird in the thread you linked to. Yes, it's quite awesome.
posted by jamaro at 2:05 PM on March 28, 2012

For whatever reason I've had much better luck in flossing regularly when I switched my thought process from "I need to floss every day!!" (eh, I'm tired, I'm going to bed, I flossed yesterday, I'll floss tomorrow, a couple times a week isn't as bad as some people! excuse excuse) to "I must use up this stupid sample-package of floss that my dentist gave me!! Must finish package as soon as possible!! Too much clutter in bathroom! Floss now!" (oh, yay, another evening, another 15 inches, away we go!)

Which is not to say this will work for you, just that brains and habits can be really irrational so don't be embarassed to throw crazy "logic" at the situation.
posted by aimedwander at 2:05 PM on March 28, 2012

Is it possible that your gums are bleeding when you brush your teeth because you're doing a super-thorough job when you do brush to make up for the times that you don't? Because that may be part of the problem (more even than the not-brushing.) When I was young I thought you were supposed to brush your teeth until your gums bled. That's what happened at the dentist, right? So it stood to reason. Turns out I was way wrong and my receding gums are a result, not of ignoring my teeth, but of brushing too aggressively. So be gentle with your teeth and your gums.

I follow elsietheeel's suggestion to keep a toothbrush in the shower. Even without toothpaste, the warm water swishing around in your mouth feels good and does a good job.

Flossing ... they make floss picks that are cinnamon, mint, tea tree, and other "flavors." I see people in their cars picking their teeth all the time. Kind of weird to me, as I want to brush my teeth after flossing to get rid of all the gunk the flossing sets free, but whatever works.

Be kind to your gums, and be kind to yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 2:09 PM on March 28, 2012

The floss picks that are flat are easy to carry (2 or 3) in your wallet.
There are mouthwashes that can give you a good "booster" clean between brushes and reduce some of the gingivitis which causes the bleeding.
I would also look into kids toothpastes. Some of them can be quite pleasant tasting.
Also would try to make an association with brushing that will cause an honest-to-god urge to brush -- have a special treat like a certain perfume or a piece of sugar-free gum you like afterwards to create a pleasurable experience associated with brushing.

(of course this is in addition to continuing to address the root causes with therapy)
posted by cross_impact at 2:10 PM on March 28, 2012

I will echo those saying it's definitely something to bring up in therapy. If I have learned anything in therapy it's that EVERY DAMN THING is related. I'm always mentioning some "minor" thing that my therapist will then help me unravel so that I see it's totally part of the bigger whole.

I love brushing my teeth, and for me, just the sensation of clean teeth is enough of a motivation. I kind of skew the opposite of you: I get antsy if I don't brush often enough and carry a brush in my purse for when I'm out and eating.

On the other hand, I cannot be arsed to floss. To help with that, I have dental floss all over the house, on my bedside table, in the kitchen, in the living room near the couch, at my desk. (If I'm being perfectly honest, I have that much because I don't floss enough and they're all the little sample flosses my dentist gives.) I also have those plastic floss sticks in my purse, and my mother bought me an electric flosser (which makes me crazy from an environmental perspective, but is kind of fun to use). Sometimes I'll use flossing as an excuse to sit in from of the TV for a half hour or I'll stay up reading some useless crap on the internet so that I can floss at my desk. Little bribes to encourage good behaviour.

Conversely, I also occasionally treat myself to not brushing or flossing. Turning out the light and going to sleep without brushing can feel like a total decadence that I have "earned" by doing it the rest of the time.

Buying fancy toothbrushes and wacky pastes and newfangled flossing devices would also work as big motivators for me.
posted by looli at 2:14 PM on March 28, 2012

One other suggestion is a cavity-flighting or antiseptic mouthwash as a stopgap. If you can't bring yourself to brush or floss, maybe a little mouthwash can help.
posted by looli at 2:16 PM on March 28, 2012

I keep the container of floss on the couch in the living room so while I'm watching TV, I can mindlessly floss. I'm not going out of my way to do it and it doesn't seem like a chore

I do this too! I HATE flossing, but doing it in front of the TV makes it so much less boring.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:24 PM on March 28, 2012

Try setting a daily reminder/alarm on your phone. I've done this to reinforce acquiring a couple habits I wanted to get into and having an outside reminder really helped.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:27 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you wake up in the morning, take your pillow with you to the sink and leave it there. Then when you get in bed, you simply cannot go to sleep without brushing!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had issues with my gums on and off. At one point I had full-blown gingivitis, which scared me into action, but then I let it go and my gums got kind of puffy again. Last year I made the conscious decision that I was going to track the issue and fix it. I used an Android app called Task:life that asked me every night if I had flossed, done a full brushing, and whether or not my gums had bled. I also invested in a fairly expensive Sonicare. Glide floss is the best entry level floss-it's the only one that didn't hurt me. It was cool when I used the app because I could see how flossing and brushing were making my gums better. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a cleaning and didn't bleed at all even when they were torturing me. I used to bleed so bad that I would get a headache after the dentist.

So yeah, it's something to discuss with your therapist, but many people have these issues and there are lots of lifehacks that can help. You'd be surprised how many people who seem well-put together are struggling with things like gingivitis. It's pretty common.
posted by melissam at 2:40 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: What is different on the 2-3 days that you do brush? Could you work some of that impetus into brushing your teeth on just one extra day a week, to begin with? Perhaps you would find it helpful to just start slowly and do it for one extra day, rather than trying to be at your ideal immediately.

There are medicated mouthwashes that can help with bleeding gums. Corsodyl is one such brand. I can see how that might contribute towards not brushing.

I find that telling myself that "I'll just do a little bit" is a good way to get me to do what I want. For example, just put the toothpaste on the toothbrush. No pressure to use it, just get that far and do that little thing. Then, if you brush your teeth, great, and if you don't, then you're still doing everything you set out to do.

As someone else suggested, I use Jeosgoals to make sure I've brushed twice and flossed at least once a day. I run through the list of goals and the end of the day and tick them all off. I also have a Sonicare, which feels quite nice to use, much more so than an ordinary toothbrush. I even have some interdental brushes, and they're surprisingly pleasant to use. As in, they feel physically good to use. I also have some nice tasting mouthwash and toothpaste. For me, it was all about making brushing and flossing a pleasant experience, up to and including using it as an excuse to stay in the shower longer.
posted by Solomon at 2:42 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

By making this into a thing that you MUST do, there is a part of you that is pushing back equally hard. Try wholeheartedly allowing yourself to not brush your teeth. You have nothing to lose, as you are already currently not doing it very much. Really, really allow it without judgment. See what happens.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:53 PM on March 28, 2012

Oh, hey! I used to be kind of like this! Weirdly, what worked for me was flossing while I watched TV at night. I fidget, so it was nice to have something to do with my hands. And honestly, if you floss at night you'll want to brush your teeth because your mouth will taste gross. And then in the morning, you'll be like "my mouth tastes gross" x "remember how gross my mouth was last night?"=brush now!

Good on you for going to the dentist. I'm working on that one.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:56 PM on March 28, 2012

I like to lie on the couch, watch terrible TV and floss! I have floss picks that sit on my coffee table and it takes the stress out of it. I like to think of brushing my teeth as the official start to my morning - I do it right before I walk out the door; just after putting on my make up. It also signals the end of my day - I do it right before I go to bed. This is how I keep myself in a routine.
posted by latch24 at 2:59 PM on March 28, 2012

I am prone to bad breath, and if I'm not pretty vigilant about brushing my teeth, semi-regular flossing, and brushing the tongue, my mouth feels like a fuzzy infested swamp. Try breathing on a mirror at random times during the day to see if that motivates you to clean those tooths.
posted by tatiana131 at 3:15 PM on March 28, 2012

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a book about how habits form and how they break. Here is a Q&A with the author where he goes over some of the ideas. There may be techniques you can use to create the habit you want.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 3:43 PM on March 28, 2012

Piggyback tooth brushing onto a daily habit you already have.

For example, when I wanted to remember to take my vitamins, I put them right in front of my toothbrush. There was no way I could miss them because I use my toothbrush every day. Now, I can't separate brushing my teeth and taking my vitamins. The habit is all bundled up together.

As an added bonus, try to work a tiny reward into your new habit. It could be running your finger over a tooth to hear it squeak, a good-tasting mouthwash, or using a great smelling lotion on your hands when the job is complete. Good luck!
posted by fancypance at 3:54 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: You need to discuss this with your therapist. We could throw suggestions and advice at you all day, but until you deal with the source of your shame you will struggle with this.

I had a similar problem with getting out of bed in the morning, tried putting my alarm clock across the room, music, rewards for myself if I did it, anything. Once I dealt with WHY I didn't get out (with the help of a therapist) it wasn't so hard anymore.

There is no way this isn't directly related to your previous struggles, your therapist has experience in this area and will not judge you. I'm giving you the push to bring it up!
posted by Dynex at 4:02 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why not leave your toothbrush and toothpaste in the sink, so that you see them when you go to wash your face in the morning?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:48 PM on March 28, 2012

Oh, also, if your gums are bleeding: take tylenol the first few times. No need to let yourself experience that kind of physical pain as you're trying to build a new habit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:50 PM on March 28, 2012

Like some upthreaders, I thought brushing became more fun and easy when I got an Oral-B electric toothbrush. Although you cannot exactly put it in your mouth and forget it, it takes away the feeling of doing a manual chore. I've used a Sonicare before but didn't like it as much.

The feeling and procedure is different enough that it may feel like you're forming an entirely new habit instead of sticking to the one you know and resist.
posted by springload at 5:16 PM on March 28, 2012

Best answer: I've always brushed when I get up but I only started brushing before bed because I got into a relationship and it seemed unfair to sleep with someone (who's an avid brusher) without brushing.

I still don't floss, so no help there- I have just finally decided to start going to the dentist once a year and that'll have to do.

But what helped me hate brushing less was getting a toothbrush with a small head and very soft bristles, and a friend gave me this awesome, insanely over priced toothpaste called Marvis Jasmine Mint that makes brushing my teeth feel like a self-indulgence.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:06 PM on March 28, 2012

posted by small_ruminant at 6:07 PM on March 28, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, you are all so amazing! Thank you all so, so much for the kindness and the tips.

I went out today and bought the floss picks - I'm going to keep one bag in my car (for red lights, not freeways), and one bag by my desk at home (where I spend several hours a day). I like doing something with my hands/mouth, and I like the way they taste, so I think they are going to be a really good solution to flossing.

I'm also going to look into the fancier toothpaste solutions - Tom's of Maine Fennel and the Marvis stuff. I got myself into the facewashing habit by buying nice stuff that I like to use, so maybe the same technique will work here. I've actually looked on Amazon for nicer/different toothpaste before, but hadn't found any. I'd get a fancy electric toothbrush too, but I had one growing up and I really hated it - I found the vibrations very unpleasant.

And there are tons of other good tips here for me to try if the floss picks and fancy toothpaste alone don't do it, I'm going to experiment with putting toothbrushes different places, putting my toothbrush on top of my face stuff / contact stuff, tracking it with a goal website, etc.

And I'll definitely bring it up with my therapist.

Thanks again, so much, and I'll definitely keep checking the thread if you have more suggestions for me.
posted by Why hello, I am a sock puppet at 6:52 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have no idea if this will help, but I often do leg lifts while I brush/floss. For some reason, I love to do leg lifts (just lift each leg out to the side, however many times each per leg) and it makes brushing and flossing more fun for me. I also do a calf exercise, even simpler, by just lifting up onto my toes over and over again, all the while brushing or flossing. Good times!
posted by kirst27 at 7:03 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My recommendation for the therapist / shame issue:
Bring it up at the end of a session. I've done this for an issue I have a lot of shame around, because I knew we'd only have a few minutes to discuss it and then I was done dealing with it for a while. We still haven't addressed it in depth, but we do brief updates and it helps a lot to know that she already knows and that she's ready to help me with it when I'm ready to talk about it.

As for flossing, 2 data points:

1) I hated hated hated flossing until I found a brand / style of floss that I liked. Never flossed before that. The texture is super important. I also hate mint floss for some reason. So keep trying different types of floss until you find one you like.
2) It took a while of flossing before my gums stopped bleeding regularly, but I think I was noticing improvements on how sore they were pretty quickly (It was a while ago, I actually don't remember it clearly). It was worth it. Go gently on sore gums.
posted by Zebulias at 7:36 PM on March 28, 2012

Try buying a cute toothbrush! I buy a bright screaming pink toothbrush (I buy the same one every 3 or so months) with a small head (hee). I like bright screaming pink. Or even buy one that will make you giggle to use it, like a Dora the Explorer one or a Thomas the Tank Engine or Spongebob. My seven-year-old nephew has one that lights up. I'm kind of jealous of it, honestly. Once you get into a solid habit, you can switch to a boring toothbrush. Or not.

I set cell phone alarms for EVERYTHING. I have one to remind me to take my birth control pill every morning. I have one set to remind me of my yoga class. I have reminders for people's birthdays, doctor's appointments, you name it. I even have one set to go off an hour from now so I don't get lost on TV Tropes and stay up too late. I set the alarm, write myself a little note that flashes with the alarm and I generally do what the alarm tells me because I went to the trouble of setting it. If you have a cell phone and it has an alarm or calendar function, try setting a morning and nighttime alarm reminding you to brush your teeth.

Also, to make yourself feel better about your teeth, you may consider chewing sugar-free gum. Gum that contains xylitol, a sugar substitute (and is NOT fruit-flavored) can help prevent tooth decay.
posted by Aquifer at 9:00 PM on March 28, 2012

If you weren't a fan of electric toothbrushing, the Sonicare will most likely be too intense for you at first, though I would still recommend sticking it out because the Sonicare is amazing! (I love that there's a brotherhood of Sonicare users...)

I have two morning alarms that go off at different times to remind me to do different things. It's a faulty system, and I find myself acknowledging that the alarm went off and still procrastinating and/or immediately forgetting to do whatever it is I was supposed to do. But if you're starting from the ground up, perhaps it's worth it to set the alarm for the occasions that it works.

On preview, I agree completely with Aquifer on the cute toothbrush thing. And what about a fun Zapi toothbrush sanitizer? It's arguably useless, but also adorable. :) (I really want the Zapi-Doodle version that comes with interchangeable stickers for the face...)

The great thing about brushing and flossing is that once you start making it a habit (especially flossing, which you can even do at stoplights, as you noted) it becomes a very constructive cycle that feeds itself with positive reinforcement. I just brushed my teeth about fifteen minutes before reading this post, and I can feel the minty freshness and clean feeling, and it feels good. Like with any good habit you get into, every time you do it, you will feel great for having done it. In the past you have been burdened by guilt, but now think of yourself as having a clean slate (no pun intended). You're no longer someone who doesn't brush and floss, you're someone who keeps floss picks in hir car! You're someone who looks into fancy schmancy toothpaste flavors because you value yourself and want to take care of yourself in the most luxurious ways!
posted by ariela at 9:15 PM on March 28, 2012

My dental hygiene obsessed girlfriend told me that flossing more than once a day isn't recommended. I've never checked the validity of that but you might want to ask your dentist next time you go.
posted by Defenestrator at 11:27 PM on March 28, 2012

Hi, OP. I am another person chiming in to say that in the depth of depression I've brushed my teeth about 2-3 times a week too. You are not alone, but you should know that you are very courageous for coming out and admitting to it. Admitting it is the first step to working through it. I think your therapist will have respect for you in admitting it because it shows that you are someone who wants to get better.

Since you've gotten a lot of answers about how to physically remind yourself to do it, I'll give you my mental motivator: having a job. I've got to be around other people all day and to me, it is professional to make sure my teeth are clean so that my breath won't smell when I'm talking to them. It is rare that I forget to do it in the morning now that I have begun thinking of it in this way. Job can be substituted for "school" or "interacting with people while looking for work" or whatever your circumstance may currently be.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:49 AM on March 29, 2012

I never used to floss mainly because I had maybe one or two floss containers, stuffed somewhere around my bathroom cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind.

I've found that putting boxes of floss EVERYWHERE around the house, in sight, I'm much more likely to remember to floss.

I've never really created a routine to floss my teeth, but by keeping floss everywhere in sight, I do floss more, and by flossing more, I've become much more sensitive to food getting stuck in my teeth. So now, at random points through out the day, usually after a meal, I'll get up and go floss my teeth because I can feel (or think I can feel) some food particle stuck in my teeth.
posted by nikkorizz at 4:02 AM on March 29, 2012

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