Making Healthy Habits Happen
We all know what we “should” do- brush, floss, eat right, exercise, take vitamins, and on and on. We promise our healthcare provider we’ll change our (evil, lazy, unhealthy, you call it) ways. Yet, after we leave the dental office, we go right back to our old routines. Nothing changes, well, until the day before our next appointment when that floss makes it out of the drawer and teeth get a scrubbing like crazy. All my tools and suggestion for improving your oral health and general wellness tools won’t work if you can’t get’em in your mouth.
If you have had ANY new cavities in your mouth or within the family in the last six months, then there’s a greater likelihood you’ll have a new cavity within the next six months. Tooth decay is contagious from tooth to tooth and person to person! “Drill and fill” does NOT kill the bacteria and stop decay. Got bleeding gums? You’ve likely heard that darn floss lecture for the umpteenth time. It’s time to change things up – a lot – if you do not want a new lecture. And, in my opinion, the less dentistry, the better.
So, let’s review some new ideas about how to incorporate a new dental habit or routine into your life. Once and for all.
Habits are interesting. I just finished a book on habits, habit making, how they take over our lives, and how to change one. It was eye popping and a fun read – different from my usual dental journals, but I did read it to learn how to best help my patients incorporate new dental habits into their day.
Habits start with a cue– a reminder we need to do something- then the routine takes over, and then there’s a reward.
The Cue– every habit has a trigger- time of day, people around, emotions you’re feeling, etc…
The Routine– that’s the way we do things- this is the behavior we want to become the new habit.
The Reward– what we get out of doing whatever we do. Clean teeth, fresh breath, a smile, feeling good about ourselves. Whatever motivates you to do something.
In order to change a habit, we need to change one or two of these things:
The Cue– most folks care for their teeth after breakfast in the morning, and then just before bed. That is, if they aren’t too rushed or too tired. OOPS- no time – off to work or school, and boy, by the end of the day it’s time for bed so another rush job with a quick brush, if the teeth are lucky. The cue is a reminder to do something- time of day? Where will you be? Who else is around? What will you have just finished doing? Think about these things.
The Reward– why do you clean your teeth?
Personally, I love my smooth, clean teeth “feeling,” plus, I want to get all the food out, so I don’t have bad breath. (Think about how your kitchen garbage smells after two days of rotting food. That’s the same food that’s resting in between your teeth.) If that’s not a reward, not sure what is!
What reward would motivate you to spend an extra 60 seconds on your oral health? Do you crave this reward?? No? Then change the reward. Think about what would motivate you- then reward yourself. Whether it’s praise from your dental hygienist 😉 or a new purse (I love handbags- that’s one of my motivators) or power tool or pay yourself every time you do your dental routine- think about the money you’ll not need to spend on fillings! Then take yourself out to lunch. Find a reward that works for you, find what’ll motivate you to do these habits daily.
The Routine: So, whatever routine you’re using isn’t working for you. Time to mix it up. You do not need to do it all in order- really, no science says you have to brush, then floss, and swish. Instead – spread it out.
- Brush in the shower. Yes, some electric brushes will withstand the shower – read the directions. Just don’t use it in the bathtub.
- Dry brush in the car on the way to work or school
- Brush before breakfast
- Brush after dinner (just give it 30 minutes)
- Brush during TV commercials
- Pikster in the shower, floss in the shower
- Floss or Pikster before brushing (I won’t leave the house without mascara so I floss before I put my makeup on)
- Suck on a probiotic while reading in bed
- Pop a xylitol in your mouth every time you open your purse
- Bleach your teeth during your Sunday night TV show for 30 minutes
I pikster on the way to work or on my way home – just about every time I’m in the car by myself. I’m addicted to how great my teeth and gums feel after I use them! (my reward) TMI, but I wanted you to see how I have varied my routine to work quick little routine changes into my day. Find a different time to complete this task. Right before bed? hmmm, probably not the best time.
The most important part of new habit formation:
Be a rebel and change it up. And. Then. WRITE IT DOWN! Write up your new plan. Old habits are sneaky and can slip right back in, so really, do write down your new habit(s) and this will help guide you and keep you on track.
When_____(cue), I will ___ with______(routine), it provides me with ___(reward) .
When I take a shower (the cue), I will brush, pikster and scrape my tongue (the routine), it makes my mouth tingle (the reward).
Whether it’s changing your reward, the cue, or the routine, your oral health, as well as your total body wellness depends on it! Every day I see new research that ties oral health to total body wellness. Plan your work (habit) and work your plan (new routine). Your dental hygienist will be pleasantly surprised and applaud your success! (And, no more floss lectures…) So, keep it super simple by writing it down and you really will beat tooth decay and gum infection!
Think about how to incorporate this into all your new habits!
Make Healthy Habits a part of your day and then keep smiling because you should be proud, you made it happen!!
P.S. I love your questions and comments! Don’t be shy! Let me know about your successful new routines.