how do I get my partner to better prioritize oral hygiene?
April 13, 2021 12:29 PM   Subscribe

My significant other has some.... very specific criteria for accepting conventional social practices. I appreciate his uniqueness, intelligence, and eccentricities in many ways... however he recently confessed to brushing his teeth only a few times a month(!) arguing that he eats no sugar/alcohol/caffeine/few processed foods & doesn't need to. After discussion he has agreed to brush on a daily basis, but will not floss or visit the dentist. He wants evidence that his health will be negatively affected if he doesnt- can anyone help with links/experience on this?

This is a new (6 mos) relationship, but is on (apart from this issue) very solid terms. We were set up by mutual very close friends, Im deeply in love with him and we are working hard (honest, challenging, long discussions, mutual reflection/problemsolving etc), to build the basis for a stable, enduring relationship. This man is the most loving, considerate, giving, smart, compatible person Ive ever been with. On a daily basis he goes above and beyond for me. Im attracted to him, sex is great/respectful, and I truly love him a lot. In general he does not have bad breath, but does get visible material stuck in his teeth & unfortunately I just cant help it- this is a turn-off to kissing him. Ive never rejected a kiss or made a face or a disparaging comment, if hes noticed Im a little less into it Ive responded by gently suggested we both brush before a next make out session or something.

It pains me A LOT that bringing up the brushing issue led to his feeling that I was rejecting him as a person & still he feels like I am trying to change something about him that is 'not good enough'. As we have talked about this, I have reworded in as many different/more sensitive/positive/complimentary/'reinforcing my attraction for him' ways as I can even remotely think of. But still, he periodically says things like "you totally make me selfconscious about even eating garlic now" (I have never commented to him about garlic). It feels awful that I could make him feel these things, or that Im actively trying to make him feel self conscious, or even unintentionally diminish his self esteem is excruciating.

Im greatly relieved he agreed to brush daily. Ive brought it up once since our agreement on this. I am still a bit grossed out by the lack of flossing. I feel like over time though, we can keep talking and communicating to reach an understanding on this. However, in the long term, I am concerned about his health, as from what I understand oral hygiene is linked to a bunch of other health issues (cancers, gum diseases, heart disease etc etc). My partner argues that his diet (very clean eating, literally doesnt drink anything but water- ever) reduces those risks far more than going to a dentist ever could.

My partner argues that nature has a way of handling good/bad bacteria & that both the hygiene industry and the dental industry has been built on selling people things/services they dont need. Specifically- that he does not need. He doesnt want to buy/smell/smell like tooth paste, he doesnt want to take in 'chemicals' , he doesnt see any use of a dentist visit unless hes in pain. The last time he was at a dentist was 2 years ago for wisdom teeth removal but hadnt gone for literally decades prior & said the dentist said his teeth look 'fine'. He doesnt believe that professsional cleaning/evaluation will do anything new or good for him/his health. He believes professional cleaning is a scam, and that most oral health journal articles have been funded by the dental industry, and only involve simple correlation (not causation) so are not credible.

Next week, we are in a location where I know a very good dentist who has a 50$ charge for cleaning/exam. This is less than a quarter of the cost any other time and I made an appointment for myself. My partner agreed that if I can provide scientific evidence that oral health/professional cleaning leads to health benefits, that he will go gladly, annually. But (as cited above) not just any journal article will do (ie he says "If the research is funded by colgate it doesnt count").

Im really looking at this guy as a prospective life partner. We have crossed so much difficult water together and done so well, but the fact that he continues to say that daily brushing/preventative exams is a scam sold to people by the industry leaves me a bit at a loss. I also wonder if hes agreeing to brush daily now- but I kind of expect that will slip over the years if he isnt doing it because he is convinced on his own terms that he himself benefits. I find it hard to believe that someone who brushes teeth 'a couple times a month', with water, would likely retain their teeth into old age. But maybe its me on the wrong side of this argument. If Im being unreasonable or vain or insensitive or projecting 'manufactured' social standards onto someone I really care about, I hope someone will let me know a better way of speaking to him about it or... I mean, I find it incomprehensible to end a relationship like this over something so simple/basic as toothbrushing but also have never imagined even having to have a conversation (or pushback!) about something like this.

Note: we are an international couple, dental standards for straightness/color/even presence/absence differ even among english speaking countries so maybe theres likely a cultural issue underlying. He also mentioned his family giving him a hard time for not adhering to dental advice (to get braces/maintain hygiene) as a child/teen.

Any advice, journal articles, experience, or helpful approaches to how to frame this without hurting his feelings and building up rather than degrading our relationship would be very very appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how old you are, but my wife and I are almost 50. We both have always brushed regularly. She hardly ever goes to the dentist and her teeth have always been fine. I didn't go to the dentist for a few years after college and ended up having to pay for multiple crowns (at $1000 a pop) because of it. I hedged on paying for a $600 mouth guard at night and ended up losing a tooth (and paying a large sum for the privilege) because of it. Some people are genetically lucky and have great teeth, some of us not so much.

It may take tooth pain for this guy to change his perspective. By which time it may be too late. Or he might be fine. His reasons for distrusting the dental establishment are not without merit. I don't think it's your job to change his mind. You can tell him your standards for staying kissable, but it's ultimately his body and his choice.
posted by rikschell at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2021 [8 favorites]

You can go a very long way with dental hygiene simply with friction alone. If he doesn't want to ingest chemicals he can buy a dollar store tooth brush and some plain dental floss and at least remove the physical debris from the surfaces his teeth and in between his teeth and gums so that it doesn't fester and rot. If he doesn't remove the shit that is accumulating and will further accumulate on his teeth, then he's creating an environment for calculus to form, which will cause his gums to recede and his teeth to decay, which will be painful and expensive as he ages.

He doesn't need toothpaste for this at all. Toothpaste is great because it has fluoride in it, which protects your tooth enamel, but toothpaste is also full of flavors and detergents so you feel like you're accomplishing enhanced cleaning action when you brush with toothpaste. That's the marketing part. The fluoride in toothpaste is legitimate, and so are the abrasives. But he can accomplish the abrasives part simply by using a toothbrush and floss with water alone, or even some baking soda.

Get him to see the dentist to screen for periodontal disease. That's what we all do when we see a dentist. They clean our teeth to remove the built up tartar/calculus and they make sure we don't have any burgeoning infections in our gums. Gum disease is insidious if untreated and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that gum disease and heart valve disease is linked. Keep your teeth and gums healthy, keep your heart healthy, live longer and with better quality of life.
posted by phunniemee at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2021 [14 favorites]

I'm in the "Don't push too much" camp. He's said he's going to brush daily, and if he follows through, that's a huge step. If he doesn't follow through and keep the brushing habit, then you can talk to him about how the lack of dental hygiene affects you. Like, does it make you not want to kiss him? Is gingivitis causing bad breath?

A lot of people start taking better care of teeth and gums only when they have to. Like when they notice gum redness, sensitivity, or a bleeding. Maybe you can suggest that he go for professional cleaning if he eventually tastes or sees even a little blood when he brushes. Gum problems are a lot less common in people under about 30, but the risk increases over time.

His future dental health is his problem. I don't think your standards are necessarily relevant right now if there's no current bad effect on you. If he starts having trouble that does affect you, you can press him further at that time.
posted by wryly at 12:50 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I mean, poor dental health can literally kill you. Pretty famously, Andy Hallett, who played Lorne on Buffy, died from complications due to a dental infection. He wasn't even 40. Keeping on top of dental health is pretty important!
Hallett suffered a dental infection which spread through the bloodstream to his heart, leading to a case of cardiomyopathy, for which he spent five days in the hospital. Although he recovered, his heart muscle and valves were weakened and he found himself easily fatigued afterward. He did not return to acting (except for a voice part in the animated film Geppetto's Secret), but pursued his music career and frequently appeared at media conventions for Buffy and Angel and for science fiction and fantasy in general.

Five years after first experiencing heart problems, and after at least three additional hospitalizations, Hallett died from congestive heart failure on March 29, 2009 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles with his father by his bedside. He was 33 years old.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2021 [15 favorites]

I have bad news for you, flossing has not actually been shown to make a difference in the prevalence of cavities or gum disease. However, of special note during a global respiratory pandemic, oral bacteria load *does* significantly affect the likelihood of pneumonia or respiratory complications in older adults. It's also a risk factor for heart disease, as mentioned above. So between a toothbrush and some serious mouthwash once or twice a day, he should be alright. It's never going to stick unless it's HIS goal, though.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

Many studies over the last couple of decades have shown that poor oral health is directly linked to cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke. There are lots of theories about why this is, but it seems fairly well proven at this point.

There have also been studies into how gum disease can lead to other conditions such as osteoperosis, respiratory diseases and even forms of cancer, though it's early days for those.

By letting his oral health slip, he is putting unnecessary stress on the rest of his body's systems, and may be exacerbating long term issues.

Aside from the dental issues, I'm a little concerned that he keeps bringing this up with you to point out how you've hurt him with your concern, despite the fact that you've repeatedly apologised and tried to frame it differently. This suggests to me that he may have some deeper seated self-esteem issues and I worry about what will happen if you disagree on something more fundamental. Please keep an eye out for him blaming you for making him feel bad when he's the one at fault. He is, after all, an adult, and you're not his parent. You are doing a very kind thing in trying to improve his health, but at the end of the day you are not responsible for the fact that he is refusing to listen to modern medical science.
posted by fight or flight at 1:12 PM on April 13, 2021 [26 favorites]

It might help if a dentist could meet him where he is and they could develop a relationship from there. If you do a search on “holistic dentistry” in your area you may find dentists who are entirely sympathetic to the “chemicals” angle and who understand his fears about professional cleanings being a racket. But taking him to an inexpensive dentist that you happen to like could backfire spectacularly, especially if they take the tack of shaming/horror at his current habits.

He may have trauma in his past. Or sensory defensiveness that he is not aware of. But an understanding dentist with a bent toward minimal intervention might be helpful?

You are not being unreasonable. I had to do huge amounts of work to deal with medical trauma in order to stay with my partner because he couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who would not get medical care, and you know what? I was happy to do it. I was happy to do it because he is the most amazing person ever and doing something scary and hard was minor in the face of how I feel about him. Everyone deserves to be in a relationship with someone who feels that way about them.
posted by corey flood at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

It might be helpful to also present to him evidence that toothbrushing as a form of hygiene vastly predates Colgate, the modern dental industrial complex and indeed, industrialization itself. People have been brushing their teeth since ancient times.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:21 PM on April 13, 2021 [14 favorites]

My partner agreed that if I can provide scientific evidence that oral health/professional cleaning leads to health benefits, that he will go gladly, annually... If Im being unreasonable or vain or insensitive or projecting 'manufactured' social standards onto someone I really care about, I hope someone will let me know a better way of speaking to him about it or...

There are ways in which your partner is not wrong. There have definitely been a bunch of industry studies on things that pointed out a bunch of supposed benefits to things that were... beneficial maybe but not at that level. That said, this is how studies work, especially in the US, they get funded by industry because industry stands to benefit. It's still science if Colgate does it, as long as you can look at the studies and see that they were done correctly, etc.

I share the view of other people in this thread, and not in a few others

- I think if he's brushing-not-flossing and doesn't have any other overarching hygiene things (awful breath, pain, etc) you should lay off and consider this okay. Like if a person flosses once a day they're still going to sometimes get stuff stuck in their teeth between flosses. This is a thing that I think you can budge on.
- That said, having to mom a partner into a thing is exhausting and I would not have the patience for this and I would watch for his "No chemicals" thing to really be something that expands into other areas where he doesn't want to do things (i.e. this could just be strong preferences, this could be a cultural difference, this could also be OCD)
- Honestly, I think you are saying that he's "not good enough" if he doesn't take care of his teeth and it's okay for you to think that! My sister had a partner once with poor physical hygiene and it was exhausting. Not only did he often smell (of BO or cloying deodorants designed to mask it) but he would get really upset and angry when she'd ask him to take a shower and that is not normative! Like, there may be good reasons, and that is fine, and it's worth working on him with it, but if he's just moping when you ask him to brush his teeth, that's a bad dynamic
- what everyone else has already said about why toothbrushing matters. Brushing with baking soda and doing a salt rinse will really do most of what he needs and maybe you can agree on a dentist every three years or something. Because, honestly, some dentistry is kinda scammy, trying to sell people stuff they don't need in the name of "perfect smiles" but a lot is not! You may have to find a dentist which shares his views, fix what's broken and otherwise leave it alone. I've found ex-military dentists to be great in this regard.
posted by jessamyn at 1:25 PM on April 13, 2021 [23 favorites]

He brushes daily? Then he is not doing badly at all.
Can you find him a toothpaste that doesn't contain 'chemicals' and doesn't taste minty (if that is the flavour he objects to)? Health food stores may very well have something that is more to his taste. He could also brush with coconut oil or baking soda or a mixture of the two. I have done that for years and my dentist approved.

But honestly, it's mostly the brushing that matters.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:28 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

So... I don't floss. Like, I don't ever floss -- I floss every six months when I go in for a cleaning and get my teeth flossed by the hygienist, unless I have something in my teeth which cannot be dislodged by my toothbrush. Is this gross? Probably to many people, but I brush regularly and get told "keep doing what you're doing" when I go to the dentist so I'm probably not gonna change anytime soon.

My husband worked in the dental field for about 25 years and also does not floss regularly either -- he gets on kicks where he'll do it for a few days and then go months without flossing.

I do find that using an electric toothbrush seems to kind of mimic the use of floss in that when I do floss, I bleed less when I've been using an electric toothbrush than when I haven't. Maybe he could get an electric toothbrush and keep the no-floss lifestyle.
posted by jabes at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Since long before Colgate, Scope, Crest Tooth Whitening Pens, etc., were a gleam in the eye of their manufacturers, there has been a disconnect between health care for your teeth and health care for the rest of your body, even though you can become seriously ill or die from an untreated tooth infection.

My theory is that it has to do with how dentists and physicians are educated.

In 1840, a couple of self-educated dentists approached the University of Maryland medical school and said they thought that dentistry wasn't just mechanical -- that it's more than just pulling teeth -- and that dentistry should become part of the med school curriculum, with licensing and peer review.

The med school turned them down. So from the time that dentistry became a profession, it hasn't been considered part of primary care. One of the many, many drawbacks of the US health insurance system is that too few people have access to information on the preventive dental care that can keep not only their teeth but also the rest of their bodies healthy.

P.S. I agree with jessamyn that "Honestly, I think you are saying that he's "not good enough" if he doesn't take care of his teeth and it's okay for you to think that!" If he never changed, would you be willing to stay?
posted by virago at 1:49 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think he's probably working under the assumption that our prehistoric ancestors didn't have toothbrushes or dentists and their teeth somehow managed to last a lifetime, and are still present and correct when their skeletons get dug up here and now. So, how could toothbrushes and dentists suddenly be necessary now, if our teeth can apparently survive thousands of years unscathed? But! I've learned of late that our teeth today are not what they used to be. Or, our jaws aren't. Apparently as our diets progressed towards eating softer, cooked foods, our jaws became a lot smaller, and our teeth a lot more crowded, and that's when cavities started becoming a thing. So unless he has an ancestrally broad jaw with perfectly spaced teeth, and is eating zero tooth unfriendly foods (including anything that converts to sugar, like potatoes), those rules don't apply to him. It might be worth getting him to read up on that?
posted by FifteenShocks at 2:03 PM on April 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

I used to work for big toothbrush companies, and I think your partner has SO MANY GREAT POINTS.

First, flossing, as mentioned above, does not have proven therapeutic benefits.

Second, most chemicals in toothpaste are not really necessary to be in there. The claims on most toothbrushes and toothpastes about "whitening" are completely fake. All paste and brushes whiten about the same.

Third, Power toothbrushes only are better in that, they have a timer. If someone used power toothbrushes less time than a manual toothbrush, it's no better.

Fourth, you mention that "he eats no sugar/alcohol/caffeine/few processed foods". The PRIMARY reason to brush your teeth is to overcome sugars in your mouth. Now, some carbohydrates are turned into sugar in your mouth with contact with saliva, so any simple carbohydrates could cause a slight problem, but he is mostly correct in that sugars are the MAIN reason to brush teeth.

So, I, from an (ex-) professionals perspective, think that your health concerns, especially at once a day, are unfounded.

However, I have two sets of advice for you and your partner.

First, I would like to talk about a specific use of technology that is not commonly known about. You can buy a waterpik attachment for your showerhead/sink. (I prefer showerhead). This has 10x the benefits of normal flossing, it's fast and fun and makes your mouth feel so clean. It is self-cleaning, and doesn't require refilling or power like the expensive, countertop varieties. When I began using one, my dentist had wondered if I had been to a dentist prior to them and not told anyone.

Second, I think that having visible food stuck in your teeth is a reasonable thing to ask to change. Not necessarily brushing, not with a health overview, but "hey, I love your vibe, but one thing that would help me want to kiss you is to not kiss you specifically when you have something stuck in your teeth! It's partially digested in there!" As a way to help with that process, I highly recommend you bring a travel box of flossers (I like plackers brand) and say "Hey, I want to make out with you, will you remove the spinach in your teeth first?" Or something along those lines. I think most people in his situation would be happy to do that, knowing it's not for health reasons but your comfort.

Hope my opinions are helpful!
posted by bbqturtle at 2:08 PM on April 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

Gretchen Rubin has a tendencies type quiz:

One of the daily challenges of life is: “How do I get people—including myself—to do what I want?” The Four Tendencies framework makes this task much easier by revealing whether a person is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Your dude is a "rebel" type I suspect - basically "if you ask or tell them to do something, they're very likely to resist."

Strategy of Identity (most important for Rebels): For Rebels, the most effective habit-change strategy is the Strategy of Identity. Because Rebels place great value on being true to themselves, they can embrace a habit if they view it as a way to express their identity. "I quit sugar because I respect my body. I want to give myself energy and good health by eating only healthy foods."

Strategy of Clarity: The Strategy of Clarity works for Rebels, because it focuses on why a habit might have personal value for them. The more Rebels think about what they want, and why they want it, the more effectively they pursue it. "I attend this optional seminar about Photoshop because I'm a creative, curious person who loves to learn about new tools and methods. This class is giving me the knowledge I crave."

posted by RoadScholar at 2:11 PM on April 13, 2021 [15 favorites]

Godspeed and you are a saint, miss.

If he's creeped out by the chemical factor, diy charcoal toothpaste is popular, but actually detoxifying, whitening, and effective.
posted by firstdaffodils at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2021


These two sentences say everything.

I've seen countless questions on the Green along the lines of, "How I can make my best friend stop being late to everything but not hurt her feelings?" or "How I can make my ex see that I've changed and that we should get back together now?"

My mental answer to these questions always has been: The only thing you can make is brownies. Or a sweater. Or a cup of coffee.

Same here. OP, you have been about as nice to this guy as it is possible to be when someone is breathing old food in your face during interludes of affection.

Now let him take the energy he has used to craft a thesis about false consciousness and the socio-dental industrial complex and direct that effort toward analyzing what he is trying to avoid by not taking care of his own goddamn teeth.
posted by virago at 2:13 PM on April 13, 2021 [41 favorites]

My partner argues that nature has a way of handling good/bad bacteria

This naturalistic view, which is also shared by many anti-vaccine proponents and other groups, is entirely true in a sense. Nature does have a way of handling this, which is that sometimes bacteria and viruses can be successful at living within us, having the side effect of making us very sick, and perhaps dying. Oral infections can spread to your brain, and viruses can make your organs shut down. There is nothing in Nature that prioritizes human life over other life forms. To think otherwise is a kind of anthrocentric hubris.

What we do with modern medicine and such is to try to stack the odds in our favor better. Less people will die from bacteria and viruses if we use these methods than if we don't. We don't have to use medicine, but if we don't, we have to accept that we will have more sick and dead people than if we did.

If you find his aversion to oral hygiene difficult, I would seriously consider whether your worldviews are compatible enough for long-term relationship. This is not about toothpaste, it's an entire way of seeing the world. What else will he apply it to?
posted by epanalepsis at 2:21 PM on April 13, 2021 [48 favorites]

You are made of stronger stuff than I! There is no way in hell I would kiss anyone who brushes their teeth a few times a month. How is the fact that this makes you uncomfortable not incentive enough for him? I mean yeah, nobody wants to be told their hygiene is not up to par but sometimes the awkward conversation must be had. Usually with men, it seems. Men who think that grooming standards are for other people. Never fear, you’ve done nothing wrong. This is in fact gross by modern sensibilities and the fact that you’re grossed out means you’re normal.

I don’t think you should be focusing on the health aspect at all because that’s just a way of finessing the fact that you find this gross. Does he care about how you feel? Is he willing to do this perfectly harmless thing that the whole rest of the world does to make things better between you? That’s what matters.

P.S. I hate conventional toothpaste too. It burns. Have him try Dr Bronner’s anise toothpaste.
posted by HotToddy at 2:32 PM on April 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

As a side note, charcoal toothpaste (recommended above) is particularly abrasive to enamel. I would not suggest that to him—it would seem particularly awful if his teeth have been more or less OK with his current routine and then he ends up wearing away his enamel with charcoal. And if he’s not seeing a dentist regularly there’s no one to tell him “hey you’re starting to wear your enamel down, switch to something more gentle.” There’s other options that are less minty/detergenty that won’t have that risk.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:42 PM on April 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

but I kind of expect that will slip over the years if he isnt doing it because he is convinced on his own terms that he himself benefits.

Yep. This is precisely what will happen. If he were truly interested in exploring your ideas and possibly challenging his own views, he would be partnering and collaborating with you in doing this research, not leaving it entirely up to you to convince him. I think it unlikely he will genuinely consider any journal article you bring him, even if it technically fits his criteria. People steeped in these worldviews are generally not open to having them changed, in my opinion, apart from (or even in the face of!) a major medical event.

It pains me A LOT that bringing up the brushing issue led to his feeling that I was rejecting him as a person & still he feels like I am trying to change something about him that is 'not good enough'...I have reworded in as many different/more sensitive/positive/complimentary/'reinforcing my attraction for him' ways as I can even remotely think of

Yeah, this is not good news either, the inability to gracefully receive feedback on extremely basic relationship niceties and consider your feelings and make adjustments accordingly. My former spouse was like this, like he wouldn't shower or brush his teeth for days to weeks and yet somehow those conversations, no matter how gently or delicately I raised my concerns, were always interpreted as an attack on his self-esteem and a referendum on himself as a person. Not about the extremely basic need for adult hygiene and the increasingly disturbing impact on me, our shared bed, and our relationship as a whole.

I find it incomprehensible to end a relationship like this over something so simple/basic as toothbrushing but also have never imagined even having to have a conversation (or pushback!) about something like this.

Like someone said above, this isn't about toothpaste, it represents so much more. This is a whole different worldview, not just a personal preference. I would be very concerned about what else they likely extend this to that you just haven't encountered yet. Six months is really not much time at all.
posted by anderjen at 2:43 PM on April 13, 2021 [28 favorites]

I think there are a lot of good comments in this thread, but my first thought was that your boyfriend’s concerns are so all over the map that I wonder if his aversion is actually something completely different that he would rather not share with you, like a fear of the dentist or a sensory issue he secretly thinks is embarrassing.

But while there are many and sundry ways to address those issues of they are the case, I think the real crux of the matter is this: an aspect of your partner’s hygiene grosses you out and, rather than rectify with an extremely easy and fast action, he has fought you, guilted you, and tried to make you feel unreasonable and uncaring. None of that is okay.

Maybe it’s true that he is genetically gifted and (currently) doesn’t need dental care; maybe it’s true that toothpaste is less necessary than just brushing with water (my dentist says this, although he also says that if I had to pick brushing OR flossing, I should prioritize flossing first); maybe it’s true that lots of “health & beauty” products and routines are unnecessary scams (although clearly not all of them are). But regardless, the real issue here is his unwillingness to accommodate your small and reasonable request about the state of his mouth, given that he wants you to touch it with your own mouth.

And fwiw, my dad is like your boyfriend, with a long-standing unwillingness to take care of his teeth. And that worked fine for him for about 50 years (no pain, okay breath, etc) until the day when it very much did not. He has now had to have extensive, excruciating dental work done, including having teeth removed. In addition to the pain and expense and long-term health implications, it has also changed his entire face—it’s like he aged twenty years overnight. If all else fails and you still want to fight with him, it’s possible that an appeal to vanity might win where other things have failed.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 3:03 PM on April 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

flossing has not actually been shown to make a difference in the prevalence of cavities or gum disease.
Yeah, I read that when it first came out and was like woohoo I knew it was a scam freedom at last no more flossing. Whereupon my gums swelled up all gross and squishy and bled like mad and hurt.

So I took up flossing again and now my gums don't hurt or bleed plus there's not gunk all up in my mouth one hundred percent of the time. So there's what has and has not been shown and there's what happens in your mouth an inch or three from your brain and just a hop skip and jump from your heart and does it HURT you to floss? No. Are there chemicals in floss? No.

There are places online that sell biodegradable silk floss.

He's right about toothpaste being pointless beyond making toothbrushing more enjoyable for the sheeple in the thrall of Big Menthol. And the fluoride, but he probably gets enough fluoride from the water.

...our teeth today are not what they used to be. Or, our jaws aren't. Apparently as our diets progressed towards eating softer, cooked foods, our jaws became a lot smaller, and our teeth a lot more crowded, and that's when cavities started becoming a thing.

This is Weston Price's line and it has been questioned. Healthy teeth all your life when your life is only 25 years long isn't particularly remarkable. No cavities in your skull because you were so malnourished all your life that even dental plaque starved on your regimen isn't, either.

but even were it unassailable fact that too much corn and potatoes shrank our jaws and rotted our teeth, yeah:
unless he has an ancestrally broad jaw with perfectly spaced teeth, and is eating zero tooth unfriendly foods (including anything that converts to sugar, like potatoes), those rules don't apply to him. It might be worth getting him to read up on that?
posted by Don Pepino at 3:22 PM on April 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

I feel you might benefit from figuring out exactly what is bothering you about this. Because you said, "In general he does not have bad breath, but does get visible material stuck in his teeth & unfortunately I just cant help it- this is a turn-off to kissing him". First of all, of course that's a turn-off; most people would be turned off by that! BUT - it has nothing to do with brushing. I brush twice a day - first thing in the morning and last thing before bed - but I eat in all the hours in between so I definitely get stuff stuck in my teeth sometimes. I rely on the people I care about to tell me it's happened, and then I quickly take care of it (sometimes with floss, sometimes a fingernail - it doesn't usually require me to brush). If he has an issue with THIS - if he gets offended when you tell him he has stuff in his teeth - THAT'S a problem to address. Would he also get offended if you told him his fly was undone, or he had sauce on his face?

So if that's the main issue, you can address it without involving any dentists, brushing agreements, etc. As rikschell stated above, just tell him tell him your standards for staying kissable. If he won't meet those standards then your options are to accept it or break up.

But if you are also bothered by his breath, or the idea that he might develop health problems, or his general views on dentistry, etc then the solutions to those are different. It's worth your time to organize your thoughts and tackle each issue in the most appropriate way.
posted by yawper at 3:32 PM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just so you know your partner's bacterial load will absolutely transfer to you. He may be fine with his dental risk factor but now that he's part of a couple his risk transfers to you. You are well within your rights not to want to assume his risk. If his bacteria get in your mouth and you eat any sugar, ingest any cafine or alcohol etc you will have to work very hard to keep all that bacteria under control. I'm a person who has lots of reasons to mistrust dentists and, not wishing to see one often, I am religious about the cleanliness of my mouth. If you go forward with this relationship I recommend brushing twice daily, flossing at least once daily. Using a water jet cleaner twice daily and a cavity fighting mouth wash at least once a day.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Sorry but this is a complete lack of self-awareness and a complete lack of respect for others.

"I [love/like you a lot] but your disgusting mouth makes me less attracted to you, please ensure you attend to your mouth maintenance regularly if you want us to be together."
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:20 PM on April 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

This man is the most loving, considerate, giving, smart, compatible person Ive ever been with. On a daily basis he goes above and beyond for me.

and yet he's not considerate enough to brush his teeth for others (that's half of why I do it!),
he's not smart enough to read/research peer-reviewed research or learn outside of his narrow worldview,
he's not giving enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.
He's not compatible if he is going to bend logic to his lazy worldview.

Brushing one's teeth isn't even above and beyond. It's basic fundamental hygiene.

If he's really such an anti-social character, I'd run, not walk, away. This is a huge mismatch in values and he will - *he will* - make you "convince" him of everything he doesn't "believe."
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:57 PM on April 13, 2021 [40 favorites]

I don't know whether having kids is something you wish or intend, but if so:

Think about a future where you are with this guy and you have one or more children under the age of 10. Someone's gonna have to get the kids to brush their teeth every night, and it can't always be you.

I mean, imaginary potential future children aren't as important as your happiness right now. But if he's making you fight this much of a battle with him over tooth brushing, imagine doing the same thing with him AND kids.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:40 PM on April 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

My god, think of what he will teach potential offspring. "Do as I say, not as I do" has been proven ineffective.
posted by tristeza at 6:49 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apropos of this question - I just happened to stumble on this video! Maybe show him: A Dad Didn't Brush his Teeth for 40 Days.... This is what happened to his Kidneys
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:56 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree with everything Dressed to Kill said. Everything about your partner’s ideas/attitudes/behavior seems like a massive red flag to me. That being said, the thing that got me to start flossing regularly was smelling the disgusting gunk on the floss and realizing that was otherwise just there in my mouth all the time.
posted by music for skeletons at 7:00 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

he doesnt see any use of a dentist visit unless hes in pain

Since your partner has had good luck or genes so far, I suspect he is grossly underestimating the level of pain and expense things can reach if he lets things get this far. Thousands upon thousands of dollars. If nothing else, it's basic and responsible risk and money management that he would owe to his life partner, who would probably also be the one to have to take care of him.
posted by unannihilated at 7:22 PM on April 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Heart disease has a definite correlation with poor oral health and now dementia. The link seems to be through gum infections. You get gum infections by having things fester in there.

Obviously any infections can be bad. They can even creep into the sinus cavity. Here’s a case study he may be interested in: Understanding How a Dental Infection May Spread to the Brain: Case Report

If his teeth rot and fall out due to poor prevention (that includes avoiding occasional professional cleanings), he won’t be able to chew. A soft diet is not fun and neither are dentures.

I’d get him a fun waterpik for flossing, and an electric toothbrush. And a tasty toothpaste. I recommend Sensodyne or Colgate. Crest sucks.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:29 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

My partner argues that nature has a way of handling good/bad bacteria

omg. Ex-archaeologist here: I have dug up enough really gross, broken, painful looking teeth -- and skulls with big painful ugly gaps where the teeth should be -- to know that this is a really dumb argument.

Most of human history, EVERYONE DIES BEFORE THEY REACH 30!

Seriously. This guy is old enough to know, deep down in his heart, that he needs to brush his goddam teeth.
posted by EllaEm at 7:30 PM on April 13, 2021 [20 favorites]

If he is protesting the concept of “chemicals” in toothpaste in his mouth, his demand for evidence-based anything is really more about yanking your chain than anything actually factual.

You are getting a taste of what the power struggles with this guy will be like, for the rest of your time with him.
posted by Sublimity at 8:36 PM on April 13, 2021 [22 favorites]

You want to know how to communicate kindly about something you never imagined you’d need to tell a grown man. You worry you’re being hurtful because his reaction is to imply you are being needlessly critical. It’s worth thinking about how often his choices go against conventional wisdom, and how often that might lead to you asking for something basic and being met with defensiveness or a debate. Because it’s one thing to figure out how to communicate well about his oral hygiene specifically, and quite another to figure out how to communicate well about whatever the next surprising disagreement is. If it’s just oral hygiene, I think your most successful communication will be about making a request (and/or setting a boundary) rather than about convincing him you’re scientifically correct: “This is really important to me. Knowing you brushed your teeth makes me want to kiss you. Would you be willing to err on the side of brushing your teeth and seeing a dentist yearly even though you’re skeptical of the need?” (And if he says no, you can absolutely set a boundary according to your comfort, such as: I don’t want to kiss you if you haven’t brushed your teeth that day.) On the other hand, if it’s a new thing every couple months, that’s a lot trickier. You and he would need to come to an agreement that you’re going to raise concerns or disagree with his choices because he’s out of step with so many of your assumptions and norms, and he can expect you to be tactful and honest. (But honestly, if he’s hurt by your expressing a preference that he brush his teeth every day? I wouldn’t have overly high hopes he’ll react graciously when you ask him to do some other extremely ordinary thing.)
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:05 PM on April 13, 2021 [21 favorites]

I didn’t read the other answers but my aunt went to the ER with heart failure caused by an untreated abscess in one of her teeth. Not to mention the cost and physical maintenance of things like dentures. Dental health is part of overall health.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:38 PM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

he feels like I am trying to change something about him that is 'not good enough'.

....... you are. You literally are, and that’s fine. The only thing wrong with it is when it’s clear he’s too stubborn and the benefits outweigh the costs. Then, if you choose to live with it, you should drop it for your own sake.

But don’t feel BAD for not wanting to kiss a dirty, smelly mouth! With chewed food particles in it! Would you apologize for not wanting to lick the sink drain? It’s your face/mouth/densely sensory area, nature has trained you not to put it anywhere too unpleasant. (Well, usually.)

Does he feel like he benefits from you brushing regularly? You should ask him. And if he truly, absolutely cannot put himself in your shoes, you should ask him to make a super special effort to believe what you’re saying without having to understand or feel it for himself. Say this isn’t about him, it’s just an issue that would be really important to you in anyone, not matter *how amazing* they were, Brad Pitt, or your version of Brad Pitt, you’d feel the same way if they stopped brushing.

If none of this will get through to him, he has an enormous blind spot which your will continue to struggle with, possibly for years or forever. So you should consider whether you’re OK with that the next time you’re highly uncomfortable (say, childbirth).
posted by stoneandstar at 11:50 PM on April 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

>and only involve simple correlation (not causation)

He’s on Reddit too much... I’m not sure how it’s possible to do randomized controlled trials in dentistry when blinding and randomization are problematic (ask him if he believes in physiotherapy research?), and even if it were possible, you can’t have studies running like that over long timescales (definitely not studies aiming to demonstrate causation! For that you need max one variable to differ, and either a super tightly controlled study or massive groups to wash out differences like in drug studies). You couldn’t ethically do a long term study where one group was very likely to have poor outcomes. Maybe he should even just go to Reddit and ask about this himself, maybe he’d trust discussion more. ELI5 would be where he should go.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:14 AM on April 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

It does not bode well that you have to work this hard for him to respect your eminently reasonable wishes. He needs journal articles—that you have to find?—to convince him to behave like an adult? It honestly sounds like he’s been on like reddit reading young boys’ misinterpretation of science, and once someone is in that “I alone see DA REAL TRUTH” mindset, it’s a fool’s errand to argue it until they’re ready to come to their senses of their own will. The fact that it grosses you out isn’t enough; think about that. You say you are considering a future with this person so I hope you won’t overlook red flags like this.

That said, mainstream commercial toothpastes and floss are not the only way to clean one’s mouth, which he could find out for himself with 30 seconds’ research if he cared to do it.
posted by kapers at 5:30 PM on April 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

I had to stop reading the question and skipped to the answers because I am so grossed out by the idea of kissing someone with food in their never-brushed teeth.
posted by Viola Swamp at 6:15 PM on April 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

My partner argues that nature has a way of handling good/bad bacteria
Has he heard of typhoid fever? Maybe polio, that beloved classic? How about pre-modern use of basic tooth-cleaning tools around the world?

No matter rational your argument, you're unlikely to shift his attitudes towards dental care because they are not based on a rational foundation. He will not make a reasoned cost/benefit analysis no matter how gently phrased your request, no matter how well-crafted the studies.

There are two areas for you to be cautious of when considering a life partnership here. One is, broadly, alignment of attitudes related to health and medicine. If you are both relatively young and healthy it may not seem like a big deal now but it's actually "core values" territory. It affects how you support each other with future health challenges, how you raise your children, how you approach aging together. The other is how resistant he is being to making a simple, non-invasive, inexpensive change to his grooming habits to support your comfort and intimacy with him. The guilt-trip he is laying on you about this very reasonable request is really something!

You're right that cultural background can inform different personal grooming habits and aesthetic standards. For example, I come from a culture where people mostly shower in the morning and dated someone for a while who came from a culture where people mostly shower at night. It really irked her that I came to bed "dirty" so I... started showering at night. Prioritizing very straight or very white teeth, to the extent that those are aesthetic rather than functional choices, is another example of where people might reasonably disagree.

It's not per se a bad thing to approach health and hygiene customs with some skepticism, or to opt out of some social beauty standards. What your boyfriend is doing goes way beyond that kind of healthy skepticism. It's ignorant and it's rude to you. Brushing your teeth daily with one of the many available varieties of toothbrushes and pastes/powders is not a vanity. Cleaning bits of stuck food out from between your teeth before kissing your partner is not a scam propped up by a cabal of dentists. Seriously. Yuck.
posted by 4rtemis at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'll just list some facts. I temped in a dental office and bad dental hygiene clearly has unpleasant consequences that I have seen in person.
Humans live longer than we used to, and a lot of people outlive their teeth; this makes life much less pleasant.
Nature is a battle/ competition between various life forms, not always some benevolent process.
Dental caries(specific bacteria) has spread to every corner of the globe and wants to eat your teeth.
Dental bacteria can and does infect the rest of the body, notably the heart, causing illness and even death. *
Brushing removes plaque and bacteria and stuff bacteria feeds on and that is helpful to dental health.
Flossing is especially helpful if, like me, you have some spaces between teeth where crud collects. When a crumb of what the dental hygienist removes falls on your tongue it's absolutely vile.
Fluoride in toothpaste or water has a chemical reaction with teeth and makes them stronger; this was discovered because people who live in places where there's naturally occurring fluoride have stronger healthier teeth. People who drink un-fluoridated bottled water have more cavities.
Drinking water is good for dental health.
Saliva is good for teeth, so chewing gum, which promotes saliva, is kind of good for teeth.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that is good for teeth, is present in some sugar-free gum.
Brushing with just water is better than not brushing, and might be an option for a 2nd daily brushing.

If partner's breath is okay, I guess kissing is okay, but non-brushing skeeves me right out. Your sweetie sounds stubborn and oppositional but if they are willing to compromise, their personal health choices are their own. I'm glad you have someone to love and be loved by.

* I swear a mefite commented about their Dad who couldn't get proper dental care promptly enough and had heart disease caused by dental bacteria.
posted by theora55 at 1:32 PM on April 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you don’t WANT to kiss him when his breath stinks and he can fix it but refuses to, that’s 100% on him.
posted by bendy at 2:03 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's okay and kind and acceptable and reasonable to set boundaries, even with your SO. You can let him know that you will only kiss him if he has cleaned his whole mouth such that it is free of debris and bad odors. Problem solved.

Everything else is his own damn business. It's not your job to ensure that he is brushing and flossing. It's not your job to convince him of the necessity of oral hygiene as part of his good health. It's not your job to make him feel good about your personal boundary wrt kissing. That's all his circus and his monkeys, not yours.

(It may become your business if you have kids with him and he insists that your mutual children should not brush their teeth. But that isn't relevant now.)
posted by MiraK at 10:34 AM on April 20, 2021

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