If you’re someone who lives with depression, you are probably aware of the effect depressive episodes can have on your everyday life. Personal hygiene habits such as brushing your teeth and showering can often present themselves as challenges while you’re experiencing feelings of hopelessness or apathy.
If you haven’t been taking care of your teeth, you might feel discouraged to re-start your routine or go to the dentist. Dentists are not there to just guilt patients into flossing more, Amy Weis, DDS, a dentist in Parris Island, South Carolina, told The Mighty. Your dentist’s job is to help you find a routine that works for you.
“As dentists, it is our duty and obligation to care for the whole person,” Dr. Weis explained. “Good oral health cannot be achieved without good mental health. Dentists need to be aware of the signs in patients who may be struggling and be able to reach out and refer to people who can help.”
Related: How to Help a Loved One ‘Steer’ Through the Black Ice of Depression
Make sure your dentist knows what challenges you are currently experiencing so they can work with you to come up with a plan that feels reasonable. Dentists love discussing the various ways people can improve their oral health.
“Everyone should have a dentist who they feel comfortable sharing information with,” she said. “In my opinion, it is critical that everyone finds a dentist who will be compassionate, understand[ing] and non-judgmental.”
If you are looking to get your dental hygiene back on track, Weis said the best thing you can do is try and brush your teeth. She added:
Brushing is the most important as it physically removes the bacteria off of our teeth that cause cavities. If there is any time in the day you should be brushing your teeth, it is at night before bed. When we go to sleep, we aren’t swallowing as much or drinking any water, so any ‘gunk’ on your teeth will sit there for the hours you are asleep — which is why you want to start with a clean slate before bed.
Related: 4 Small Steps to Try When You Face a Depression Setback
To help make cleaning your teeth during a depressive episode a little easier, we asked The Mighty community and Weis to share some of their dental hygiene “hacks.”
Here’s what they recommended:
Related: When You Feel Like the ‘Poster Girl’ for Depression
Wisps are inexpensive, disposable brushes that help remove plaque and food particles. Keep them in your bag or by your bedside for days when conventional brushing isn’t going to happen.
“Wisp! These things are hard to find but so worth the effort!” Sarah H.
“[Wisps] are great. You just use them once and throw. I keep them in my bedside table drawer.” – Holly R.
“Mini throw away toothbrushes to keep in my bedside table.” – Courtney H.
You can buy Wisps disposable toothbrushes on Amazon for $4.82.
2. Use a Colorful or ‘Kid’ Toothbrush
Make brushing your teeth something to look forward to by using “kid” toothbrushes with your favorite characters or designs on them.
“I don’t use adult toothbrushes. I have a small mouth anyways so I get the character sonic brushes that have characters that make me happy. Last one was Hello Kitty and the current one is Mario.” – Lindy B.
Amazon sells a 4-pack of Marvel character toothbrushes for $3.41.
3. Baby Wipes
Using a baby wipe is a good way to catch excess plaque and food build-up on days when brushing your teeth is too daunting, Weis said.
“Honestly on my really rough days, I wipe my teeth with a baby wipe.” – Hope K.
“I use [apagard] toothpaste from Japan, it helps to rebuild small parts of your teeth. When I can’t brush I always use mouthwash or a baby wipe.” – Annie S.
You can get a 32-ct pack of Huggies Natural Care Unscented Wipes from Target for $1.69.
4. LUSH Chewable Toothpaste Tablets
Swap your regular toothpaste with “chewable” toothpaste. Bite a few times on a tablet to create a paste, then grab a wet toothbrush and brush as you usually would.
“LUSH sells chewable toothpaste. I think this is such a good idea for people who don’t have the motivation and energy to do things like this to take care of themselves.” – Mackenzie S.
You can get LUSH Toothy Tabs and Mouthwash Tabs here for $9.95 to $10.95.
5. Keep Your Toothpaste and Toothbrush in the Shower
If remembering to brush is a challenge, incorporate it into your other personal care activities. Brush your teeth as part of your shower or bath.
“Keeping the toothbrush and toothpaste in the shower kind of helps me to remember to brush my teeth, as I’m less likely to forget to shower.” – Kim J.
“Brushing your teeth in the shower so it’s more like doing one thing instead of two and it’s easier to remember that way too.” – Tess S.
“Leave toothbrush and toothpaste in the shower. It’s a bit easier to do it all at the same time.” – Katie S.
“Brush teeth in the shower. Sitting on [the] floor with back against [the] wall if you have to.” – Renée W.
6. Switch Up Your Toothpaste Flavor
Using a “fun” flavor can make brushing easier, especially if you aren’t a fan of mint flavored toothpaste. Toothpaste brands such as Tom’s of Maine offer flavored toothpaste with or without fluoride.
“There are also some companies online that make flavored toothpaste with and without fluoride. My favorite is banana. I look forward to toothpastes like that rather than just mint.” – Quinn B.
You can get Tom’s of Maine Silly Strawberry Anticavity Fluoride Natural Kids’ Toothpaste at Target for $4.49.
7. Create a Habit Tracker or Hang Up a Dry Erase Board
Dry erase boards can be a great way to keep track of your dental hygiene habits and write down reminders. Consider keeping one in your bathroom to keep track of when you brush your teeth.
“I recently bought a dry erase board for my room. When my anxiety kicks in I make lists, and when depression kicks in I forget to do things or don’t care. I write my daily tasks, like take meds, shower, brush teeth, eat, and erase them as I go. Marking things off of the list also helps.” – Mary R.
“For my clients that struggle with this, we make a habit tracker and hang it on the bathroom mirror as a reminder” – Christy D.
You can purchase this U Brands Magnetic Frameless Dry Erase Board on Amazon as an add-on for $4.82.
8. Floss Picks
Flossing helps get food particles out from between your teeth and help reduce cavities. Dental floss picks are inexpensive and can be kept virtually anywhere, that way if you are up to flossing your teeth you have a disposable floss pick readily available.
“Even for me as a dentist, flossing can feel too laborious of a task when I’m tired or in a rush,” Weis shared. “I bought myself colorful and flavored floss to make flossing fun — I choose a different flavor and color based on my mood each day. It also helps to keep disposable floss picks near your bed or in your bathroom.”
“I keep floss picks and mouth[wash] in my car because it takes less energy to floss in the car than motivate myself to do it with depression.” – Emily D.
“I keep floss picks (a very specific brand and style) everywhere. My car, my bedroom, my bathroom, my purse. If I can’t get my butt into the bathroom to brush, I at least feel like I’m doing something good for my mouth.” – Rebecca B.
You can get a 90-pack of Dentek’s Triple Clean Floss Picks at Target for $3.19.
9. Fluoride Rinse Mouthwash
Investing in a good fluoride rinse mouthwash can help manage oral hygiene. If you aren’t up to brushing your teeth, it might be easier to take a 1-minute swish of mouthwash to kill bad bacteria in your mouth.
When shopping for a mouthwash, opt for the non-alcohol version. The one with alcohol can dry out your mouth out and kill good bacteria. “Similar to probiotics we take for our stomachs, we have the same good bacteria and bad bacteria in our mouth — it’s all about finding the balance and not letting the bad get out of control,” Weis explained. “You can tell if it is an effective fluoride mouthwash if it says to not eat or drink for 30 minutes after swishing for one minute.”
“Good mouthwash. It’s really bad if I don’t even want to brush my teeth. It’s the one thing I really do every day because I have kind of poor genetics for my mouth anyway. But on the off chance I just can’t, or if I’m too exhausted to face dental hygiene at the end of the day I use a really good swish of mouth wash.” – Rebecca M.
“On low days, I gargle and brush with just mint Listerine. It makes me feel better and save a few steps.” – Mary S.
Get Listerine Total Care Mouthwash at Amazon for $6.57.
10. Brush For a Reduced Amount of Time
If brushing your teeth for two minutes seems like too much, try brushing your teeth for a reduced amount of time.
“Even if it’s only for 30 seconds before bed, [it] will do a world of good,” Weis explained. “Again, anything is better than nothing.”
“On bad days I tell myself ‘at least brush for a minute’ instead of the normal 2. That way at least they are cleaner than not brushing.” – Kristine S.
11. Keep Your Toothbrush and Toothpaste in Multiple Locations
Having access to toothpaste and a toothbrush while on the go will allow you to brush your teeth whenever you remember or the urge strikes.
“I have toothpaste/toothbrush in my work bag, my gym bag, and in my bathroom, so whenever I remember to brush, I’m equipped.” – Madeline M.
12. Waterpik Water Flosser Machine
Waterpik water flosser machines are on the expensive side, but they can help make your mouth feel cleaner on days you aren’t up to brushing.
“I have a Waterpik water flosser machine, even using just that without brushing feels so much cleaner. Sometimes I’ll put mouthwash in for extra clean.” – Cassie K.
You can purchase the Waterpik Cordless Freedom Flosser on Amazon for $44.93.
13. Reward Yourself for Brushing Your Teeth
Do you have a television show you really like to watch or artist you like to listen to? Little rewards such as putting on music or your favorite show while you brush can make it feel like less of something you have to do.
“I actually downloaded Netflix onto my phone so that while I’m doing my routine, I reward myself by watching my show. I limit myself to only watching during my hygiene routine and working out so that I have something to look forward to in tasks that are otherwise mundane,” Weis shared.
14. Products That Contain Xylitol
Products that contain Xylitol, such as Ice Breakers gum cubes, are good to keep in your car, your desk or at home to chew on throughout the day.
“Xylitol actually starves off the bad bacteria that cause cavities so it is a great supplement and does not require anything extra to add to your routine,” Weis said. You can look for dental toothpaste, mouthwash or even gum that contain xylitol.
“Xylitol crystals.. dissolve a spoonful in mouth, swish around, spit out (just keep away from dogs, it’s poisonous to them).” – Rebecca H.
You can purchase Icebreakers Gum Cubes (which contain xylitol) on Amazon for $6.24.
15. Drink Water — Lots of It
Water is important for our bodies to function properly. It also is great for our oral health.
“I like to tell my patients, ‘Imagine dirty plates in a kitchen sink. If you never wash them off, the food will harden, decompose and become difficult to clean,’” Weis said. “Drinking a lot of water helps to wash away the plaque and aid in keeping your teeth clean.”
16. Arm & Hammer Toothpaste with Baking Soda
Using toothpaste with baking soda is a great way to reduce your mouth’s acidity. You have a higher chance of developing cavities if your mouth’s pH level is more acidic.
“I choose to brush with Arm & Hammer toothpaste with baking soda. The baking soda helps to keep my mouth at a higher, more basic pH level and decrease the chance of cavities,” Weis shared.
You can buy a twin-pack of Arm & Hammer Advanced White Toothpaste on Amazon for $5.49.
Taking care of your teeth while experiencing depression or other mental health conditions may not be an easy task on its own, but these tips will hopefully help make things a bit easier. If you are experiencing any kind of pain in your teeth, that is a sign it’s time to see the dentist.
If you dread going to the dentist or are afraid you’ll be overwhelmed, bring a loved one. Jessica Hardy, DMD, one of Weis’ colleagues, recommends bringing a family member or close friend to your dental appointments when possible. If you are struggling with your oral hygiene, looping someone else into your routine can help you stick to a routine at home. That person can aid in brushing and flossing as well as give you gentle reminders and encouragement.
“The biggest key [in practicing good oral hygiene] is taking everything in baby steps. A little bit is better than nothing at all,” Weis said.
Have a dental hygiene “hack” that works for you? Let us know in the comments.
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