How to Make Oral Care Easy and Automatic

14 / 07 / 2020

Regular brushing and flossing seems inconvenient and time-consuming. It’s another thing to think about in our busy days aside from our work, business, family and future. However, poor oral health will surely catch up with us sooner or later.

How to make oral care easy and automatic

It’s about building healthy habits so we won’t have to think too much about brushing and flossing. This way everything seems automatic and feels like we’re not spending too much time and energy in an activity. It’s similar to when we’re first learning how to drive. There are many details to think through before we can safely move forward and sustain that movement. But with some practice the habit became automatic and almost effortless. That’s also what happens when we eat, walk or perform any normal activity. Almost every movement is automatic and we don’t have to think about them (e.g. do we consciously monitor how we chew and swallow our food?).

In oral care, when we brush or floss it also happens automatically. We can still brush our teeth while thinking of something else. However, it can easily get sloppy especially if we’re rushing for work or we just want to get it over quickly. In some days we might get it done in less than 30 seconds and because of the rush we brush more roughly (which can scrape the enamel and even damage our gums). There are also times when we skip brushing and flossing perhaps because we’re too busy or we forgot it (and then later we rationalise that it won’t hurt to skip brushing every once in a while).

However, that could be harmful and expensive. The bacteria never rest and they have all the time to multiply and thrive (and they have an abundant food source inside our mouths). Gradually and then suddenly, our teeth and gums get and accumulate the damage. And yes, the toothache or that unusual bad breath often comes in the most unexpected or inconvenient time (during a crucial presentation or school exam, business meeting, job interview, an important family gathering).

To prevent those unpleasant scenarios, it helps to build and sustain healthy oral habits. To make them easy and somehow automatic, what we can do is to identify the triggers and rewards. Those two are essential to habits and making them stick. For example, at night when we’re exhausted (the trigger) and we’ve already depleted our willpower, some of us have the tendency to have some ice cream or an alcoholic drink (the reward or sense of comfort and relief). As a result, whenever we feel exhausted at night, it automatically triggers a craving for a certain kind of reward. This also happens when brushing such as when we run our tongue through our teeth and when we feel a thin film. It triggers the habit and the craving for making the mouth feel clean and refreshed (the refreshing mint flavour often does the trick). The trigger might also be set by an activity tied to brushing. For instance, after eating a meal or snack many automatically grab a toothbrush.

Oral care then feels easy and automatic. One key is becoming aware (e.g. feeling that our teeth are unclean). Another key is binding the activity to an existing activity or routine (e.g. right after eating or washing the dishes). It’s all about habits and freeing up our mind for other important things while our teeth and gums are still being taken cared of.