At our Jacksonville dental office, we know on thing for certain: healthy smiles equal healthy patients. And, nothing makes a patient healthier than an amazing set of healthy habits. Healthy habits are not always the easiest habits to come by unfortunately. This is especially true for the habits most people build around their oral routine. While we all know how to keep our mouths healthy, there are very few of us who actually are up to the challenge of maintaining an impeccable oral health habit.
How Habits Are Formed
Habits are formed by repetition, but more than that habits are formed in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is deep in the brain and is associated with many functions we need to survive, for example cognition, learning, and voluntary muscle movements. When we expend a lot of brainpower learning an activity we do every day our brains do us a favor by imprinting those motions to the basal ganglia so the rest of the brain does not have to work so hard to complete that task. This is called a habit. It is a way for our minds to wander while our body goes into autopilot mode.
Habits aren’t just formed over night however, there is a set of criteria that an action must meet before the brain turns it into a habit. The cue, the routine, and the reward. Brushing your teeth is one of the best habits you can ever develop, however many people’s habits are bad. The cue for you to brush your teeth comes from every morning when you wake up and pick up your toothbrush. This tells your brain that it’s time to perform a habit. You will paste your brush and get to it. Once you are finished your breath will be fresh, your teeth squeaky clean and you will feel the reward of a job well done. Unfortunately for many people, the reward has not been earned.
Bad Brushing Habits
Bad brushing habits are not hard to come by. And when you think about how long you’ve been brushing your teeth for, it should come as no surprise. You start brushing your teeth when you first become capable of doing so. Starting a habit this young can certainly have an effect on the habit itself. To brush your teeth effectively and beneficially you must do it for two minutes at a time. Two minutes is a long time to stay concentrated on one task, especially for a child. As we grow we get better and better at this, however many people still struggle to hit the two minute mark. Further, as we age we add more steps to our oral routines, and bad habits to the pile. One in four adults does not brush their teeth twice each day and only 43 percent of adults floss on a regular basis. In order to keep your mouth as healthy as possible, and to keep your body as healthy as possible it’s imperative that you modify your oral health habits for the better.
Creating New Habits
Creating new dental habits can seem like a huge challenge, thankfully it’s not. You just need to retrain your brain. The habit loop that you created so long ago can be retrained. It will just take some mental concentration and dedication to get the work done. To change a habit you must understand the loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward. Mentally change how you prepare for this and concentrate on the positive change. It may help to change your cue drastically. Try moving your toothbrush into a new bathroom and performing your habit there. You still paste your brush but you are in a completely different environment. In this new environment you can work on changing your routine. Set a timer for two minutes and make sure you brush your teeth for that long. It will take a while for you to retrain your brain and adopt this new habit. Keep at it for a few weeks and when you feel like you go into autopilot for the two minutes you’re brushing, you know you’ve changed your habit. Next comes the reward. Understanding that fresh breath is just a short term reward for brushing your teeth can help you out immensely. While you are brushing for your two minutes, think about the bacteria you’re removing, the cavities you’re thwarting and the gum inflammation you won’t have to deal with as a result.
Creating healthy habits out of bad habits can be difficult at first, but your efforts will be well-worth the time you spent creating them. Having a healthy mouth is an important part of having a healthy body and leading a healthful lifestyle. If you have any questions on how to turn your oral health habit around, give your Jacksonville dentist a call today!