We’ve been taught to pay special attention to our hair, skin, and nails by numerous beauty magazines and online editorials. And no matter our level of investment in these forms of personal care, we know that they’re important and try to make some sort of effort in those departments. However, there’s one area that we tend to neglect: the mouth. We might do the occasional lip scrub/mask to prep for lipstick or swipe on some lip balm when the skin on our mouths feel chapped, but a lot of us don’t devote the same amount of care to our mouth as we do to our face or hair. But it’s not too late to get started on the path to a healthy mouth, so let’s walk our way through a multi-step smile routine.
Let’s start with the inside of your mouth. Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life, according to the World Health Organization. If you think about it, it makes plenty of sense. For instance, a lot of diseases initially present orally, signifying the beginning of a greater problem. And so, if a person with a normally healthy mouth were to start to develop odd symptoms, it would be a sign that a medical practitioner could pick up on.
A person’s mouth can also lend insight to their lifestyle. Do they smoke or eat a lot of acidic foods? The condition of their teeth and gums could be a clue. And let’s not forget that your smile can often be the first thing others notice about you, so it’s important to make sure everything is in tip-top shape.
Start your smile routine by flossing. It’s a common joke that beyond the random pass to catch a stray piece of food, a lot of adults only start flossing two weeks before their dental appointment, just so it looks like they’ve been doing it all along. That way, they don’t receive a lecture from their hygienists.
As much as you might hate doing it, you must floss once a day to remove not only debris but the plaque between your teeth that a toothbrush might not easily reach. Flossing helps to reduce the chances of developing gum disease or cavities. If you find it difficult to use floss the traditional way—strung between two fingers—consider a floss pick or reusable floss holder. The floss might be easier to hold onto that way.
I’m always looking for a better way to floss, and so I recently backed an invention on Kickstarter called Instafloss, which promises a complete clean in 10 seconds thanks to pulsing water jets. According to the co-founder and lead engineer Dr. Ralf Raud, “Instafloss gently cleans between each tooth and underneath the gumline where a toothbrush cannot reach, 360 degrees around each tooth. This is the most thorough, yet comfortable, flossing experience possible.” It sounds like the kind of oral health tool non-flossers need, and I can’t wait to receive mine.
The American Dental Association recommends that individuals brush their teeth twice a day for a total of two minutes. One thing I discovered after I switched from a manual toothbrush to an electric one is that two minutes is a lot longer than you might think, and so a lot of people aren’t brushing for as long as they’re supposed to. If you use a manual toothbrush or an electric one that doesn’t have some sort of time indicator, set up a timer on your phone to make sure you’re brushing for the appropriate amount of time. Technique is also important—your brush head is supposed to be held at an angle to your teeth and gums instead of flat against it, to ensure that the bristles get in between your teeth to sweep away debris.
3. Clean Your Tongue
After you’re done polishing your precious pearly whites, don’t just rinse and put away the brush. Give your tongue a good scrub too. Your tongue is covered in tiny crevices where bacteria and food debris can lurk and populate. So run your brush over your tongue for an extra 30 seconds after you’re done brushing your teeth, but don’t be too firm. It might take some getting used to if you have a particularly sensitive gag reflex, but the good news is that it doesn’t take that long. You can try humming while you do it, or try the trick where you hold your left hand in a fist with the thumb tucked in. Follow up with a tongue scraper, making passes from the top of your tongue and downwards, until the scraper comes away without residue, and rinse out with water.
4. Rinse With Fluoride
As a part of your smile routine, experts recommend finishing off with a therapeutic mouthwash, preferably a fluoride rinse. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can help fight tooth and gum issues like cavities, bad breath, and gingivitis while contributing to healthy enamel. So if you are prone to cavities or have sensitive teeth, a fluoride rinse will provide greater benefits in the long run. There are a few on the market to choose from. Just be sure to read the label to ensure you’re getting the right one for you. Look for the following ingredients and their corresponding benefits the next time you reach for a bottle of mouthwash in the toothpaste aisle:
- Fluoride to fight tooth decay and enamel strength
- Cetylpyridinium chloride to eliminate bad breath and kill bacteria
- Chlorhexidine to reduce plaque and control gingivitis
- Carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide for whitening
5. Lip Care
Moving on to the external portion of your multi-step smile routine, take care of your lips. Did you know that the state of the skin on your lips correlates to how hydrated you are? It’s true! Every time you notice that your lips are chapped, it’s your body signaling to you that you’re dehydrated. If you’re bad at drinking an adequate amount of water every day, enlist the help of an app like Hydro Coach. It’ll send you notifications every time you start to lag, and you can track how much you’ve drunk.
For a quicker fix, use a lip scrub to slough off the rough skin, taking care not to use a formulation that’s too abrasive or rub too vigorously. If you don’t have a scrub on hand, wet the bristles of your toothbrush and rub gently on your lips for 20 to 30 seconds. Next, rinse off your toothbrush, swipe a damp paper towel or cotton pad over your lip to pick up any leftover skin, and finish with a lip mask or nourishing lip balm.
And there you have it! A complete multi-step smile routine to take care of your mouth, inside and out. What does your smile routine look like? Share in the comments below!