I get tooth brushing questions all the time from my patients in private practice in Orange, CT. What toothpaste should I use? Should I listen to Dr. Oz? Am I brushing too hard? Should I brush after every meal?
After many years of observations, the following was born: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Brushers.
1. They use a Power Toothbrush
Electric toothbrushes, if properly used, are far more effective in removing plaque and other debris than a manual toothbrush. Regardless of the brand used, the vibrations and movements produce cleansing actions that cannot be reproduced manually. Removal of more plaque and tartar reduces the likelihood of gum disease and dental decay. The most effective brushers I have encountered always use power toothbrushes.
Besides cleaning the teeth more effectively, power toothbrushes also can have other important features. One is a timer indicating you should move to another area of the mouth. Another feature tells you when you are brushing too hard. This is especially important as brushing too hard is addressed in Habit #5.
2. They ask for personalized feedback from their dentist or hygienist
I spent 9 years after high school training to become a dentist with 5 years focusing primarily on the oral cavity. Dental hygienists spend a minimum of 2 years after high school studying the gum tissue and supporting structures. Your dentist and hygienist know more about the oral cavity than your physician, Dr. Oz (see Habit #3), WebMD, or any other resource.
Highly effective brushers always ask me or one of my hygienists for feedback. Certain power toothbrushes are better for some than for others. Some toothpastes are better for decay (cavities) than gum disease and vice versa. We are there to give you information and advice. Just ask. Your teeth and gums will thank you for it!
3. They do NOT listen to Dr. Oz for dental advice
Dr. Oz is an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon and TV personality. His training in the dental field is likely limited to the 2 hour lecture on teeth and gums he received as a second year medical student back in the 1980s. But that has not stopped him from presenting some questionable and even frightening solutions regarding oral health.
In his post on home teeth whitening, he suggests mixing lemon juice (an acid) and baking soda (an abrasive). You apply it to your teeth, let it sit for a minute, and then brush it off. In doing so, your teeth will become whiter. But you will be actively wearing away your teeth! This is the equivalent to swishing with Mountain Dew for 2 minutes and then rubbing your teeth with sandpaper!
Highly effective brushers do not turn to Dr. Oz for dental advice. They rely on their dentist and hygienist for professional advice.
4. They don’t brush immediately after every meal
Some people rush to the bathroom after every meal to brush. This is either ineffective or in some cases counterproductive. After an acidic meal, such as one with orange juice, the acids in the juice will have temporarily weakened the enamel. If you rush to the bathroom to brush, you will be slowly brushing away the weakened enamel! Do this over a period of years and you will have lost enough enamel for the teeth to be permanently weakened.
Highly effective brushers typically brush 2 to 3 times per day, and never immediately after a meal. After an acidic snack, they are more likely to rinse their mouth with water than to brush.
5. They don’t brush too hard
Some people think that the harder they brush, the better. Wrong! Brushing too hard can lead to recession of the gum tissue, as seen in the photo to the right. Over time, the tooth loses the critical gum and bone tissue supporting it.
Another side effect from brushing too hard is that you can wear away the outer layer of the tooth. The beginning of this can be seen in the photo on the right. I’ve had patients brush so hard that they wore all the way into the nerve of the tooth so that they needed a root canal!
Highly effective brushers do not brush too hard. This is because they have been properly instructed by their dentist or hygienist (see Habit #2) or they have a power toothbrush which tells them when they are brushing too hard (Habit #1).
6. They use a fluoridated toothpaste
Fluoride has been proven by hundreds of studies to reduce dental decay. The CDC called fluoridation of public water supplies one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. But some still attempt to link fluoridation to a Communist Plot.
A fluoridated toothpaste is much less controversial than public water fluoridation. I can say from my personal experience that people who use a non-fluoridated toothpaste get more cavities. I’ve seen this hundreds of times. Fluoride works. Highly effective brushers use fluoridated toothpastes sensibly.
7. They Floss
The seventh and final habit of highly effective brushers does not deal with brushing teeth. It address flossing.
Highly effective brushers also floss. They know that brushing only cleans 60% of the tooth surface. The other 40% of the tooth can only be reached and cleaned by dental floss or similar device. Without flossing, even the best brusher in the world will still be susceptible to getting cavities (dental decay) as well as gum disease.
Do you have other ideas on the habits of highly effective brushers? If so, leave a comment!