For many people, twice daily (or more) tooth brushing is an unbreakable routine, something we’d only willingly skip during particularly dire times or emergencies.
But it’s not entirely uncommon for people to hate brushing their teeth with such a passion that they avoid doing so whenever possible.
This evasion can range from only brushing when they have to leave the house and socialize with others, to going for days, weeks, and even months without their teeth ever coming into contact with toothpaste and brush.
What would make someone spurn basic self-care? Depression can make it hard to handle even the simplest chores, and physical medical conditions such as arthritis can turn brushing into a painful challenge. But these issues aren’t rooted in a hatred of brushing.
Those who do have a strong aversion to cleaning their teeth tend to be caught up in a vicious cycle – they don’t brush because they have dental health problems that make it painful to clean their teeth. Or they have loose teeth that move when brushed, which is upsetting and scary if you don’t have dental insurance or the money to address the problem properly with a dentist.
Or they may hate the physical sensation of brushing, for reasons ranging from overly sensitive gums to a pronounced gag reflex (also note that gagging when brushing teeth is very common during early pregnancy). For others, a trauma associated with dental health or care is triggered when they brush their teeth.
Why you (really) need to brush
More than 500 species of microscopic living organisms blithely go about their daily business in your mouth. They eat, they excrete waste, reproduce, and die. Some of these creatures are helpful to your oral health, others are neutral, and a sizable percentage seem bent on destruction of your teeth and gums.
Bacteria are amazingly adept at developing survival strategies. They produce a substance called dextran which works like a glue and enables your bacterial buddies to cling to the surface of teeth. They can also snack on the dextran, and any simple carbohydrates (particularly sugar) that you consume. Carb-fueled bacteria multiply super-fast and cling to each other, creating a “biofilm” that’s commonly referred to as plaque.
Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease. Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.
Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar. Even if you do brush regularly, it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line.
Learn to like tooth brushing
Figuring out what bothers you about brushing can help you figure out ways to make cleaning your teeth less of a problem.
If you gag when you brush, try distracting yourself. Do stretching exercises while brushing, watch the TV, read your email, walk around your house- anything that takes your mind off your mouth. Ask your dental hygienist to check your brushing technique and see if she or he has any tips to help you control the gagging. You may also find that switching to a small-sized child’s tooth brush or an electronic toothbrush (or from an electronic to a standard brush) helps too.
Pregnant women, especially early in the pregnancy, may find they gag while brushing their teeth. Using a small-sized brush can help. Brushing during non-queasy times, such as later in the morning, can help too. If the toothpaste is setting off nausea, brush without paste and use a mouthwash without alcohol for that fresh feeling -ask your dentist for recommendations. Or just rinse with water.
If your teeth hurt, or move/wobble when brushed, you need to get to the dentist as soon as possible, If you have to wait for an appointment, try closing your eyes when you brush, or hold an unstable tooth in place with your finger while brushing. Use a brush with soft or extra-soft bristles when you brush, you can’t make up for an irregular brushing schedule by the occasional vigorous cleaning with a hard-bristled brush.
People with fragile teeth may hate brushing because it reminds them that they have to go to the dentist. If you have a phobia about dental care, consider finding a dentist that works with nervous patients.
Seeing a dentist can be difficult for people who haven’t been able to afford regular dental care – it’s hard to walk into a dental office with a mouth of troubled teeth. Almost always, you’ll find the experience is much easier that you anticipated. The vast majority of dentists will make you feel good about getting back on track with your oral health. If you happen to run into a dentist who makes you feel ashamed about your teeth, find another dentist.
No insurance? Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance, providing plan members with discounts on most dental services. As an example, the majority of plans you’ll find on dentalplans.com offer savings of 10%-60% at the dentist.
Dental savings plan members pay a low annual membership fee for access to an extensive network of participating dentists and dental specialists that provide discounts on dental care at the time of service. Since they are not dental insurance, dental savings plans do not have co-payments, deductibles, paperwork hassles or annual spending limits.