As a cosmetic dentist we work each day to give people a smile that they can be confident to show off. What is worth noting is the thing that caused their teeth to need such treatment in the first place. Often genetics is to blame - that is unavoidable. However, in many cases, patient's oral health has been dominated by bad habits and poorly set out routines to look after their teeth. It is very easy to fall in to bad habits and it is the brain that forces us into them.
Use Brain Power to Create Good Oral Hygiene Habits
Think about your daily routine. There are things that you without even thinking about them. Your brain develops a way of working that allows you to act on autopilot as much as possible. It does this to make your life easier. To help you save your brain power for more urgent and imminent decisions. However, these 'autopilots' that were once very valuable can sometimes be detrimental to us. Our brains seem convinced that the easy route is always the best and it takes a lot of willpower and determination to persuade it otherwise. You may have heard yourself saying 'I don't have time' or 'I'll skip this for today, one day won't hurt'. Well that's your brain taking the easy route. In some cases you won't have time but in most, if you question the statement for one second, you will realise that actually you can manage the extra 5 minutes. When you visit a cosmetic dentist for a consultation you will often be asked about your oral hygiene habits. You will be advised that if the cause of your dental issues was your oral health habits then you need to take action to keep your teeth healthy post-treatment. Your oral health does not stop at teeth - our bodies are connected and issues with your dental health and be linked to issues with other areas of your body. If your daily routine is not strong enough and you start to skip flossing or even brushing on a weekly basis then you need to confront your brain about what is going on. You need to retrain your brain to stop following these bad habits and to put in place a positive oral health regime that works on autopilot. You want this to become a regular part of the day that doesn't fall into the category of 'well I could skip it tonight'. Let's have a look at how you can do this.
Developing a new habit
There has been extensive research into the development and integration of habits. Leading neuroscience findings have put forward that habits are made up of three stages: the cue, the routine and the reward. In it's simplest terms, the cue is the prompt or the nudge that get's you to do something, the routine is the actual thing that you do and the reward is the pay-off you are getting for completing the routine. These three stages put together are the backbone of any habit. For another view on how bad habits can be broken check out this Ted Talk by Judson Brewer.
Let's look at one of the reasons you may have bad oral hygiene habits. Skipping your teeth brushing and flossing routine before bed. In this case, 'the cue' would be that you are late going to bed and want to get as much sleep as possible that night. You then start to think of ways to shorten your evening actions. 'The routine' is the act that you perform. Here is is that you get straight into bed without brushing or flossing.Finally we arrive at 'the reward' which is that you get to go to bed 5 minutes earlier and thus sleep for 5 minutes longer that night. As we now understand the breakdown of a habit it becomes easier to manipulate the individual stages to help you overcome your bad habit. Studies have shown that the most effective action to take it to alter the 'cue' and 'routine' stages of a habit and to keep the 'reward' constant. In our example we are aiming to keep the reward of that 5 minutes extra sleep but at the same time we don't want to follow the routine of feeling tired at night (cue) and so ruining our oral hygiene habits (routine). note: if you are concerned that poor dental hygiene is giving you bad breath, our fresh breath clinic will be the perfect place to start getting your dental health back on track.
How can we put this into action?
In our example the key factor is time. We are concerned that we will not get enough sleep so much that we are willing to sacrifice the health of our teeth for just 5 minutes more in bed. If we can find a way to look through our daily routine then surely we can find 5 minutes spare that are less important than the 5 minutes allocated to looking after your teeth. To change this habit you could watch 5 minutes less TV for example. This would mean that you can go to bed 5 minutes earlier and fulfil the reward that your habit had sought. Now the cue would be that you wanted to go to bed, the routine would be that you brush and floss your teeth and go to bed and the reward is exactly the same as before. You get 5 minutes more sleep than you used to. Of course there are endless ways that you could find that extra 5 minutes in your day and the best place to take them from will be different for each individual. Ultimately, they are being re-allocated to improve your oral hygiene habits!
Turning the routine into a habit
The majority of routines last less than a week. The brain doesn't like change and will find ways for you to slip back into your comfort zone. In order to change the brains perception into seeing the new routine as comfortable you need to stay determined and stick to your guns for at least 21 days. This is known as 'the 21 day rule'. You will find times where you really want to break out of this new routine and if you do you will regret it afterwards. You need to keep focused and have faith that what you are doing will stick and become easier once your brain has become used to it. Here are some ways that can help you through that 21 day stage into evolving your routine into a habit.
Your brain loves to be rewarded so reward it plenty. A great way to do this is to stagger the reward at set points e.g. 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. This will give you that little extra motivation to see your goal through to the end.
2.Document about your progress
This works brilliantly at reminding you how far you have gone. As a cosmetic dentist we find that this is often very beneficial to teeth straightening patients who are setting up routine around maintaining their teeth whilst wearing a brace. There are times when it is important to look behind you and see how far you have grown. If you write about your experience or keep charts of your progress then you can look back and see how well you are doing and feel strongly that you would be throwing it all away if you were to stop now. It is also a great idea to visit our local dentist for a dental hygiene check up before you start adjusting your habits. You can then get some advice as well as visiting for a follow up appointment to see how much you have improved. This will give you confidence that what you are doing is working!
You may genuinely forget one day to brush your teeth - or you brain may be playing tricks on your to make you forget. I great way to overcome this is to set up an alarm on your phone. This will remind you that you need to brush your teeth - no excuses!
4.Tell people what you are doing
If you tell people that you are trying to improve your oral hygiene habits or about another goal that you are working towards then it becomes real. You feel more weight and pressure to actually do the thing that you set out to do because there are now others that will be curious as to whether you will stick with your routine. You can also discuss any issue that you have with the people you chose to share your goal with. This will help to motivate you.
5.Remind yourself of the why
Constantly remind yourself that this new routine is not a pointless endeavour. Allow yourself time to think about the health benefits and the other reasons that you are trying to improve your oral hygiene habits.