Breaking those bad dental health habits

By Dr. Stephanie McGannDMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

Bad Habits? You betcha – we all have then,nobody’s perfect. We all pick up bad habits along the way. Our personal oral health is no exception. Odds are you, like just about everyone else has picked up a habit or two that is not beneficial. It’s human nature to cut corners in the name of time or money, but with oral health care, the results can mean more costs and more time in the dental office.  So this month I’m going to share a few tips on how to identify and break those less than ideal habits.

Regular dental visits are the hallmark of preventive dental care. Catch something small, fix it when it’s less involved – meaning less time in the chair, less money to repair.  So it’s no wonder that putting off a visit to the dentist is the first bad habit to break.  I know that during the Pandemic many of us have postponed care, we get it, but be sure to get back on track as soon as possible.

It’s not hard to guess that avoiding the dental floss is on the bad habit list.  For good reason, flossing helps prevent tooth decay, gum disease and recession.  It’s really important. So how can you remember to do it? The old school reminders may just work. You know, a post-it note placed on the mirror or a timely  text alert.  Sometimes using a flossing stick or a floss alternative such as the water flosser,  may be better than not flossing at all. These alternatives are certainly easier than traditional flossing and may help develop a routine of good oral habits. Start small, set a goal of once a week and gradually build up to a once daily floss.Many people find after they become regular flossers, they actually can’t stand the feeling of not flossing.

Brushing too hard or the wrong way can damage teeth over time.  If your arm is sore after brushing you are either brushing too hard or just had your COVID vaccine.  If it’s the latter, thank you for helping to keep yourself and all of us safe. If you brush like you are cutting down a tree… well, stop it. Over time the friction from too vigorous bruising can cut a notch in your teeth and scrape away gum tissue. As a child I was given a hard bristled brush and told to brush as hard as I could stand, decades later I am dealing with sensitive areas related to toothbrush abrasion.  How to be better?  First, use only a soft bristled brush, and brush in gentle circles at a 45 degree angle to the gums.  Better yet, invest in a quality electric brush such as the oralB or Sonicare options. Gently brushing for two minutes is way superior to bruising like a chainsaw for 30 seconds.

Toothpaste, they are not equal. Some people even make their own concoctions to brush their teeth.  In 30+ years of practice (yes I’m old – thank you) I’ve seen some crazy things. I guess I don’t have to tell you the clorox cleaner (the stuff you clean an old tub with) is not recommended for teeth. Some toothpaste is more abrasive than others. If you are using a non-fluoride toothpaste, beware, fluoride makes a difference.

Does your toothbrush have whiskers? You know, splayed out bristles going every which way? It’s given it’s all and should have been retired long ago. Those frayed bristles can slice into enamel or come out and get lodged under the gum. A conventional retail toothbrush is designed to brush for two minutes twice daily for 3 months.  Many now have color change bristles built in to know when it’s time.  So change your brush quarterly or for each new season. If you look online you can find some cool crafts or things to do with the old retired brushes.

We all know this, but just a reminder, Don’t let the water run while you brush. Wet your brush, turn off the faucet and then turn it on again to finish. Save water, reduce the water bill  and help the environment.

Bad habits are hard to break.  It’s a new year and time to take better care of yourself.  What steps will you take to protect your smile?  Happy New Year!

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and owns and practices at Rainbow Valley Dental, in Valley. She is a past President of the Chester/Delaware Dental Society and she is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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