10 common teeth cleaning mistakes
What is your teeth and gum cleaning routine?
Are you making any of these mistakes?
1. Brushing too vigorously
Brushing your teeth too hard can wear away at the enamel, especially if you have weak teeth. Hard brushing can also contribute to gum recession and gum disease.
Instead of scrubbing your teeth like you are cleaning a kitchen floor, imagine you are gently polishing antique silver plate.
Try to hold your toothbrush with the tips of your fingers very close to the toothbrush head (like a fancy lady sipping from her bone china teacup). With your fine-motor skills in play it is much easier to brush gently than if you are gripping the end of the brush in your fist.
Ideally, you can brush so lightly that even after 6 months your toothbrush bristles still look brand new!
2. Using fluoride toothpaste
Contrary to what lobbyists and marketers would have us believe, fluoride does not prevent tooth decay and may damage gums. The (limited and outdated) research used to support their claims was done using naturally occurring fluoride rather than the toxic byproduct of aluminium manufacturing which is in our water and toothpaste. There is substantial evidence that fluoride is a neurotoxin which accumulates in the body disrupting collagen production and reducing enzyme activity.
Other ingredients to avoid in toothpaste include proplylen glycol, triclosan, FD&C colour pigments, trisodium phosphate, glycerin, carbomer and carragen. Artificial sweetners such as saccharin, sorbitol and xylitol may be harmful if swallowed. Detergents and surfactants (which create foam) including socium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS, ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS) and ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES) are known hormone and endocrine disruptors and may also be carciogenic and gene mutagens. SLS in particular is known to cause bleeding gum
Read the ingredients before you buy a toothpaste or make your own. One of my favorite homemade pastes is coconut oil and baking soda, sometimes with a drop of essential oil.
It doesn't foam, and it tastes quite salty making me produce lots of saliva, so brushing is a messy job. But it leaves my mouth feeling very clean. Because baking soda can be abrasive I don't recommend using it every single time you brush (see #5).
3. Scraping only the front of your tongue
Tongue scraping is a great way to keep your breath smelling sweet. You can buy a special tongue scraper at a health shop or just use the edge of a spoon.
Scrape your tongue from front to back to remove the coating of microbes and mucus that migrate up the alimentary canal, especially at night (causing morning breath). Most of the coating is at the back of the tongue so reach as far back as you can.
Rinse the coating off the scraper or spoon with hot water and repeat until your tongue is clean (i.e. nothing is coming off on the scraper). Usually two or three scrapes is enough.
4. Bleaching your teeth
Bleaching teeth at the dentist or with a kit will gradually eat away at your enamel, making your teeth ultimately more vulnerable to staining, as well as cavities. Bleaching really shouldn't be used if you have amalgam fillings because the chemicals interact with the metal fillings and may release mercury into your system.
The blinding white smiles you see on models and movie stars are from veneers (or photoshop), not from bleaching. The safest and most sustainable way to the whitest teeth is by eating a teeth healing diet with plenty of the right minerals and fat-soluble vitamins.
That's because the whiteness of your teeth comes from dentine which is the layer of underneath your enamel. Strong, hard, healthy enamel is naturally translucent and reveals the healthy white dentine below.
'Natural' whitening methods like activated charcoal, baking soda or tumeric all work more gently but are still slightly abrasive and are shouldn't be used every day (see #4). Oil pulling can help whiten teeth too (but could be risky if you have amalgam fillings, see #6).
5. Using an abrasive toothpaste every day
Many toothpastes, both big brands and health store alternatives, contain abraisive ingredients such as calcium carbonate, hydrated silica, benonite clay, salt, baking soda or activated charcoal. Unless you have very sensitive teeth or soft enamel it's ok to use these ingredients, but probably not every day. Give your teeth a break and brush without abrasion more often.
You can buy an abrasive-free toothpaste or you can make your own. You can even brush with just coconut oil or water or even a dry brush with a drop of essential oil. Your brushing technique is really more important that what you put on your brush (see #1 and #10).
6. Oil pulling with amalgams
Oil pulling can be a wonderful way to deep clean your teeth and gums. You simply put a tablespoon of cold-pressed oil such as coconut (best for teeth) or sesame (best for gums) in your mouth and swish it around for 5-20 minutes before spitting it out. Don't spit down a drain though- it will clog. And definitely don't swallow!
However, there is a unknown risk that oil pulling may release mercury from amalgam (metal or black) fillings into your system. There is no research to confirm whether this an actual risk or not, but given that oil pulling works by pulling toxins out of your mouth, and mercury is a toxin, I think its worth taking into consideration.
I have read some anecdotal evidence that oil pulling may also destabilize dental work like veneers, but plenty of people oil pull without reporting any problems.
7. Using a hard bristled toothbrush
When it comes to tooth brushes, the softer the better! Hard bristles can damage teeth enamel and gums.
Abrading your gums with hard bristles can break the surface allowing bacteria from your mouth enter your bloodstream and potentially cause inflammation in your gut, heart or lungs.
If you have receding or bleeding gums you really need to use soft round tipped bristles and brush very very gently.
You can soften your toothbrush even more by running it under hot water before you start brushing.
8. Cutting your gums when you floss
If your teeth are very close together, and you have to push hard to get floss between them, you risk cutting into your gums with regular dental floss. Try swapping for a dental tape or dental ribbon with a flat surface so it is gentler on your gums.
Interdental brushes are ideal if you have gums prone to bleeding and your teeth aren't crowded to closely. Interdental brushes look like tiny bottle brushes and are used for cleaning the triangular gap between two teeth and the gum.
Poke the brush in that gap and gently rub away the fermentable carbohydrates and plaque.
For extra gum healing and anti-bacterial protection, try dipping the brush in (suitably diluted) essential oil such as peppermint, clove, tea tree, cinnamon or neem.
Or, go high tech and try water flossing with an oral irrigator (like a waterpik). It's a gentle and effective way to clean between teeth, around the gum line and even into gum pockets. A good solution for anyone prone to frequently bleeding gums.
9. Using an alcohol based mouthwash
Ethanol is the main ingredient in most mouthwashes. Aside from being very drying, alcohol-based mouthwashes are known to cause oral cancer.
Keep your mouth fresh and healthy by rinsing with salt water, water with a drop of essential oil, or a sage rinse.
To make a sage rinse, steep a handful of fresh or tablespoon of dried sage in a teapot for 10 minutes, then strain in to a jar to keep in the bathroom. Swish a mouthful around after daily brushing, then spit.
10. Getting bored
Rushing through the same mindless routine morning and night does your teeth and gums no favors. Here are some suggestions to help you to enjoy taking your time to brush and floss mindfully.
- Brush with a buddy. You might not be able to chat while you are brushing but some friendly companionship can help with FOMO while you are in the bathroom taking care of your teeth.
- Change up your flavours. Switch between different toothpastes and toothpowders. Experiment with a variety of essential oils on your floss. Have a couple of different rinses to choose from.
- Time and track. Put on a timer to spend 10 or 15 minutes on your teeth morning and night. Mark the calendar with an X or put a sticker on a chart and try to fill a whole month without missing a day.
- Environmental improvement. Make your bathroom a more enjoyable place to hang out in with flowers, candles or crystals.
- Listen up. Put on your favorite music, podcast or audio book and enjoy some distraction
- Be mindful. Listen to a recording of a guided meditation or affirmations.
Forgive your mistakes
What if you have been making one or more of the mistakes on this list?
First of all, its never too late to change your oral care habits. But more importantly please don't beat yourself up about it.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your teeth is to be kind.
Too often we have a difficult time paying attention to our teeth because we feel bad about:
how they look or feel;
how we've treated them in the past;
how they have been mistreated by rough dentistry.
Your teeth cleaning time is the best time to think loving thoughts towards your teeth and gums, and forgive yourself any imperfections. Try using this mantra adapted from the beautiful Hawaiian forgiveness prayer called Ho'oponopono.
Direct love and gratitude towards your teeth as you think these words:
I am sorry.
I love you.
Please forgive me.
To help you turn your daily care routine into a powerful teeth healing practice I've created an A4 poster you can print out and put next to the bathroom mirror. Click here to download it.
For more excellent information about oral care at home I highly recommend the book Holistic Dental Care: The complete guide to healthy teeth and gums by Nadine Artemis.