September has been designated National Self-Improvement Month. And though the designation has proven surprisingly difficult to substantiate — the National Day Calendar listed its history as “To Be Researched” — a little self-improvement never hurt.
In fact, you might expect the exact opposite.
When it comes to dental hygiene, brushing and flossing are some of the most important routines for your smile, yet they could possibly use a little improvement.
Why You Need to Brush and Floss
Brushing and flossing can remove plaque, tartar and stains. These three culprits can cause problems of all sorts:
- Gum disease, like gingivitis or periodontitis
- Weakened tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to chips or cracks
Conditions like these can wreak havoc on your smile. But the issues don’t stop there.
In fact, here’s a saying worth remembering:
You can’t spell overall without oral.
As in, oral health directly affects overall wellness.
Bad oral health doesn’t just put you at risk for cavities, gum disease, and weakened tooth enamel; it can increase risks for serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The solution, of course, is brushing and flossing, but only when done so properly. There are a few improper ways of going about them:
Three Wrong Ways to Brush
- Brushing with force. Brushing too hard might make you feel like you’re getting your teeth extra clean, but your teeth won’t be thanking you. Using too much force can lead to tooth abrasion, little notches in the teeth near the gums.
- Starting in the same place every time. Usually, when something is routine, the tendency is to start in the exact same place every single time. For brushing, this isn’t necessarily the best technique. It takes two minutes to brush your teeth. When you start, the first tooth has your full attention. But by the time you’ve reached 1:45, you might be thinking about that board meeting you have in an hour. For more evenly-cleaned teeth, consider a new first tooth each time you brush.
- Leaving your toothbrush on a bathroom sink or counter. This isn’t really a brushing technique, but it can defeat an otherwise perfect routine. Your bathroom isn’t the exactly the cleanest room in your house — to avoid getting too “potty” mouthed about it — so your toothbrush is susceptible to germs if you park it there. Should you keep your toothbrush in the bathroom, at least put it in a holder where it can air-dry, and where the bristles won’t touch the germy sink or counter. Pro-tip: If you’re on vacation and using a travel bag, don’t store the toothbrush while it’s damp, as bacteria can grow on a moist toothbrush.
Two Wrong Ways to Floss
- Flossing too fast. Save for not flossing at all, rushed flossing may be a worst practice, as one up-and-down between your teeth might miss some food particles and won’t get under the gumline as effectively.
- Stopping at the sight of blood. If your gums start to bleed, it’s probably due to inflammation from bacteria that’s gotten into them. If you stop at the sight of blood, the bacteria wins, and the inflammation could grow worse.
At this point, it may feel like there’s a whole lot wrong with the world: diseases that want to rob you of your wellness, and wrong techniques that could prevent you from fighting them.
But September is self-improvement month, and there’s love at the end of the day. Here’s how you can improve your brushing and flossing techniques.
Six Steps for Better Brushing
- Place your toothbrush bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline
- Use just enough pressure to feel bristles against your gums and between teeth. Don’t squish the bristles
- Brush all inner and outer tooth surfaces several times, using short, circular strokes. Be sure to brush along the gumline as well
- Brush chewing surfaces straight on. Clean the inside surfaces of front teeth by tilting the brush vertically and making up-and-down strokes with the front of the brush
- Clean only one or two teeth at a time
- Brush your tongue, as oral bacteria can remain in taste buds
Five Steps for Flossing
- Start with an 18-inch strand of floss. Wind most of it around one of your middle fingers and the rest around the same finger on your other hand
- Tighten floss with about an inch of floss between your hands. Glide floss between teeth with a gentle sawing motion
- Curve it into a C against your tooth
- Hold the floss against each tooth, gently scraping the tooth’s side while moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on all teeth. Don’t forget the back ones
- Rinse to remove any loosened plaque and food particles
For #SelfImprovementMonth this September, we’re brushing up on our brushing and flossing technique. What have you been doing to improve yourself?