There’s an old joke that goes, “You brush your teeth at night to keep your teeth, you brush your teeth in the morning to keep your friends.” Humor aside, the morning cleaning ritual for many people underscores cosmetic concerns. They’ve just eaten breakfast, perhaps had some coffee, and now they’re en route to interact with colleagues and clients at work. Who wouldn’t want a shiny smile to start the day? But even with the best intentions, our brushing habits may be causing more harm than health. Abrasive pastes, hard bristles, and antiseptic rinses can be more problematic than productive.
Oral Health Has Not Improved Much for Many People
Despite all of the advances in dentistry, including at-home care products, oral heath hasn’t significantly improved in over 30 years. The pandemic made matters worse. During the outbreaks and quarantines, teeth grinding and other dental damage increased. New data from practicing dental professionals and the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute indicate nation-wide spikes in dental conditions such as chipped teeth, cavities, and grinding, technically called bruxism. Yet as we wrote in April, the situation today appears to have worsened, with a majority of Americans reporting high-stress levels due to financial concerns, inflation, the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 variants, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a poll from the American Psychological Association. Although people may not realize it, depression correlates to poor oral health.
Recent situations like the pandemic, however, can’t be viewed as the sole culprits in substandard oral hygiene. Roughly half of American adults suffer from some form of gum disease. That figure climbs to 70% for seniors over the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The real issue is one of extremes: people either neglect their teeth and gums or swing to the opposite end of the spectrum by disinfecting and sterilizing their mouths to such lengths that they disrupt the balance of the oral microbiome. Although it may sound counterintuitive, using products that eradicate all the bacteria in one’s mouth will have negative consequences.
Practicing Healthy Habits
Antiseptic mouthwash is usually advertised as killing 99% of, well, everything. And it’s true; the products actually live up to their claims. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Stringent antiseptic rinses leave behind tough, hardy, and detrimental microbes. Without others to keep them in check, they begin to repopulate the mouth and take over. This leads to myriad problems, including gum disease, tooth decay, and more.
So what should you do? Stick with the tried and true basic best practices.
- Clean your teeth before breakfast or 30 minutes after. The mouth becomes acidic when eating, in order to break down food. Brushing immediately after can damage your enamel.
- Choose an non-alcoholic mouthwash and rinse after waking. This will restore the pH of the mouth and loosen any plaque or particles that accumulated during sleep.
- Floss. Yes, floss. Any floss is better than no floss at all. String-based flosses tend to work the best.
- Use a soft bristled toothbrush (electric or manual) and don’t apply too much pressure.
- Clean your tongue with the brush or a tongue scraper made for that purpose.
- Use toothpaste from a reputable brand that’s fluoridated, effective, and bears the ADA seal of approval.
And, as we always advise, make sure to visit your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.