Healthy Body

8 Things We Learned About Mouthwash, Toothbrushing, and All Things Dental Health This Year

Photo: Stocksy/Ivan Gener
The COVID-19 pandemic changed our way of life in irreversible ways, but 2022 saw the return of a version of a "new normal" for many people, including going back for routine in-person doctor visits: Enter your long-lost biannual dental health check-ups and cleanings.

All in all, 2022 was a big year for everything dental health. Experts started talking more about the relationship between mental health and dental health (an emerging area of research), and we saw a lot of innovations around dental products and tools. From tooth polish to toothbrushing robots, this year was abuzz with advancements to help you clean your teeth better.

Here's a look at what Well+Good learned about dental health in 2022.

1. Minty doesn't always mean clean

Mint is a common flavor in toothpaste and has been for hundreds of years, though that is often a masking agent for the stuff that's really cleaning your teeth, according to Rob Raimondi, DDS, prosthodontist and cofounder of One Manhattan Dental.

Dr. Raimondi advised that brushing for the full American Dental Association recommended two minutes, no bleeding when brushing, using fluoride while you brush, and scraping your tongue are all better guarantors of clean teeth.

2. Alcohol-based mouthwash can increase cavity risk

This year we also dug into what kind of mouthwash is best for the shiniest, healthiest teeth. Mouthwash with alcohol can leave you with a minty fresh feeling, but it actually can encourage the bad kind of bacteria to grow in your mouth. Why? Alcohol-based mouthwash wipes out all of the bacteria in your mouth and leaves it feeling quite dry. This environment is great for the bad bacteria to grow back faster than the good stuff, ultimately increasing your risk for cavities.

Experts typically recommend Alcohol-free mouthwash, instead. Your toothpaste can also do more harm than good to your enamel if it's too abrasive—often marketed as having the power to remove stains from your teeth.

3. Water flossing does have a place in your dental hygiene

Just as flossing digs into your gums to clean out old food debris, we went deep into the truth about water flossing vs. regular flossing. We found out that water flossing has been around for a while and is effective at removing some plaque—typically newer plaques that have formed—from your teeth. If you have more stubborn plaque, regular flossing is a better bet. The resounding conclusion, though, is that either is better than not flossing at all.

4. Cheese is actually good for your teeth

In good news for mice and cheese lovers everywhere, we looked into whether cheese can benefit your dental health. It turns out it's actually quite good for your pearly whites. Not only is it super high in calcium, but it "can help maintain the pH balance in our mouths, which is very important for the maintenance of oral health," according to dentist Joel Berg, DDS, the chief dental officer at Willo. "When our mouth's pH gets out of balance, especially when it becomes too acidic, the cavity forming, tooth decaying process goes into overdrive."

5. Tooth polish is probably fine health-wise

TikTok was inundated with ads for "tooth polish," which is exactly what it sounds like: nail polish for your teeth. That definitely raised some questions about safety and legitimacy, but it turns out that it can be fine for temporary use (think, a few hours) and even a creative way to express yourself.

6. There is a connection between your dental and mental health

While your dental health might seem completely unrelated to your mental health, there is actually quite a bit of overlap. For example, having depression could make it difficult for you to keep up with your dental hygiene, leading to anxiety about going to the dentist. On the flip side, you may also have heightened anxiety around dental issues or costs, or even self-esteem issues related to your smile. The bottom line is your dental health and mental health are closely connected, so you'll want to be mindful of that if you notice you're having a hard time with one or the other.

7. If you struggle to brush your teeth regularly, you're not alone

Struggling to brush your teeth is a pretty common problem, and can be especially hard for people with mental health issues, executive function disorders, like ADHD, and even sensory processing issues. The first step to getting back on track is to give yourself some grace, and then follow some simple strategies to get back on track. We talked to a therapist and dentist about exactly how to do that if you want to break a no-brushing streak.

8. We tried a toothbrushing robot to see if it works—and it did

Finally, we tested out a literal toothbrushing robot at home, and the results were…interesting. Willo, the first toothbrushing robot designed primarily for kids (but adults can use it, too), works with suction and propulsion. You insert a bristled mouthpiece that wraps around your teeth, and the machine suctions the bit to your upper or lower teeth. Then it squirts in a mixture of water and toothpaste solution and pushes and pulls that around your teeth to get a clean mouth. We talked to an expert who said this is probably getting your teeth clean, but you may want to supplement with regular brushing here and there.

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