Mouthing Off: Oral Hygiene


Recently, we interviewed the face-yoga guru and jewelry designer Ranjana Khan, who, among other bon mots, gave us the following unexpected lesson in oral hygiene:

“When it comes to personal hygiene, people don’t take care of their tongues. To have a white-coated tongue when someone’s talking to you is so unattractive. So, I use a tongue scraper every day.”

Though I've long considered myself to be very serious about day-to-day hygiene, Khan’s pet peeve left me wondering if I'm really doing enough for my mouth. If we could learn this much about washing our face, and this much about eating, then what could we glean from sitting down with a verified professional about what the Orbit girl would call that "dirty mouth" of ours? Plus, what's the use of a bold red mouth if the breath coming out of it is...equally bold? (Sorry, sorry.) I reached out to my dentist, Dr. Peter Farrington, DDS, not only because his operating chair offers the best view in Manhattan and his office conversation is not unlike that in The Barber Shop, but because he's given me the most straightforward dental advice I’ve ever come across, which I thought I'd share with you.

First, the Good News: “I always say, 'The best dentistry is no dentistry.' It’s about having health. People who have really good basic hygiene tend to have good oral hygiene. Young people now have far fewer problems with cavities because, as kids, they had good, conservative dentistry, and fluoride was introduced very early. As they got older, braces, etc. were used to straighten the teeth, because, the straighter your teeth are, the healthier they are, and the easier they are to clean. So, tooth decay is down with younger people. Even if you don’t floss, a young healthy person is probably not going to lose their teeth—this wasn’t the case with your parents’ generation or your grandparents’ generation, who had way too much work done. It’s about developing a really good program, and finding a good dental hygienist and dentist.”

The Basics: "Sometimes people want to look at things as a little isolated, but there’s really a bigger picture to things. The more work you’ve had done, the more you have to clean things. Try to drink a lot of water, don’t consume a lot of sugary drinks and carbohydrates, and brush, rinse, and floss every day. And go to the dentist!"

The Real Causes of Bad Breath: "The soft tissue in your mouth causes a lot of breath situations. For example, if there’s a lot of stuff on your tongue, germs and bacteria are present. That usually lives on the back of your tongue, so you should really exfoliate or scrape it when you’re cleaning your mouth. Of course there are medical and genetic conditions, but decay and plaque on your teeth, and even being dehydrated, which can be caused by a number of things—a lot of anti-anxiety medications create excessive dryness—breathing out of your mouth, and sleeping with your mouth open at night can all contribute to bad breath."

Where to Begin? "I think it really starts at night, before you go to bed. That’s the most important time. You need to meticulously brush your teeth for two minutes, to floss—I use Glide—and use mouthwash—I like Listerine, but if you’re a person that has cavity problems, I would suggest ACT, which is a fluoride rinse and helps strengthen the enamel. You want to use mouthwash for 20 seconds. And, like I said, stay hydrated at night, drinking a lot of water. If you don’t take care of your teeth at night, you’re going to smell like you have bad halitosis in the morning."

Brush Your Teeth Like a Dentist: "A big misconception is that to clean your teeth really well, you should brush with excessive, hard motions. It’s really about massaging the gums in an almost circular motion. There are four quadrants: the upper right and left, the lower right and left, the front, and the back. A common mistake is to not hit all of these areas equally. Surprisingly, most people brush the back of their teeth better than the front because it takes a different type of dexterity to brush your front teeth. And brush for a full two minutes, which might feel like eternity, but it counts. Use a tooth timer if you have to, or the new Sonicare toothbrushes have timers built in. Always, always, always use a soft-bristle toothbrush. They’re recommended by the American Dental Association because they’re the most effective and do the least amount of damage to your teeth. Over time, harder brushing can cause your enamel to erode—a very acidic diet can do this, too, like drinking too much orange juice."

The Flossy Flossy: “Floss twice a day, absolutely, to get rid of plaque and food. Most people do not floss. But cavities start between your teeth. The food that gets lodged in there forms plaque, which can then lead to cavities."

Speaking in Tongues: “Clean your tongue as meticulously as you can using a tongue scraper or your toothbrush. Tongue scrapers are kind of a difficult procedure, which is why a lot of people don’t use them. You almost have to hold your tongue with one hand and use the scraper with the other. It looks like a comb but it’s very flexible, and you bend it and scrape. When I do it to people, they are really grossed out. If you've never done it, a whole filament will come off of your tongue. It’s especially important for people who drink a lot of coffee. They get a good layer going. [Laughs] You’ll know you’re done when your tongue has a pinker consistency."

Tonsil Hockey: "Tonsils are another area of soft tissue that can accumulate plaque and food. It’s less common today to have your tonsils removed. So, like everything else, you should try to keep this area as clean as you can. You can use a water pick to irrigate your mouth. It’s like giving your mouth a shower."

And with that, Happy Hygiene!

—Mackenzie Wagoner

P.S. Start at the 1:19 mark...

Photo via ITG.

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  • AltE

    The sonicare was the best beauty investment ever. Sonicare for everyone!!

  • Nomadic D.

    I've always used my toothbrush on my tongue, the idea of not doing it is totally gross to me. But then my acupuncturist told me not to! Needless to say, I was sort of scandalized.

    • Janet Lee

      Don't listen to your acupuncturist. Brushing your teeth, but not cleaning your tongue?! That makes no oral hygiene sense.

    • K

      You should clean your tongue but don't use your toothbrush to do it. Get a tongue scraper. :)

  • Belle

    Great post, I am so careful with oral hygiene, it actually shocks me the amount of people who don't! Yuck!

    Belle x
    Mascara & Maltesers

  • Aubrey Green

    Went to the Dentist 3 weeks ago after 6 years, lets just say it wasn't very good news. Not excluding the gross factor about that, it's EXPENSIVE even with insurance. I've learned my lesson and have been brushing (with an electric toothbrush) 3 times a day and flossing twice a day. I did find an amazing Dentist; which makes the wait kind of worth it.

  • Sara

    Great post! Very helpful! I have a Sonicare toothbrush, and have been using it for a long time, maybe 7 years. I think I am going to switch to a regular toothbrush because I am not that impressed by electrical toothbrushes. Honestly! Recently I purchased a tongue scraper, and it surely helps a lot apropos eliminating bad breath. Once again, thanks for this post!

  • Cat

    I have been flossing every single day ever since I got a cavity once as a teen. I only do it once a day though (at night), and let me tell you, I now cannot fathom a life without flossing. Before, whenever I went to the dentist they would show me how much plaque was building up and how gross it was (that pink liquid thing anyone?), but I was just too lazy. Now, even when it's a dentist I've never seen before, they can tell right away "You floss" and they barely have to do anything.

    Sometimes, I also notice when other people don't floss regularly... I am sorry guys, but it's true :( When you get close enough, you can actually SEE the plaque accumulating between the gum and teeth.

    Also, cleaning your tongue with your toothbrush takes, literally 5-10 seconds. It may feel awful at first but YOU WILL get used to it. Do it.

  • bluesky557

    Such good advice. The tongue scraper bit is so important and so many people don't do it. I have a stainless steel one that I love and would recommend over a plastic one.

  • VanessaV

    Awesome post. Thanks for this! Any input on the order of things? Floss, Brush, Scrape, Rinse? After reading Ranjana's interview, I immediately went on Amazon and bought a tongue scraper. I had always used my toothbrush to brush my tongue... the scraper is so much more affective. After your first use, prepare to be horrified when you see what your toothbrush was missing.

  • Chantel

    Awesome post, thanks so much for sharing!

  • katie

    Ayurvedic tradition suggests that one use coconut oil sort of like a mouthwash-- you take a bit of it, let it melt in your mouth, and swish it around for a minute or two before spitting. Aside from naturally cleaning and moisturizing your tongue and gums, it also makes your mouth smell (and taste!) very yummy.
    Also, I'd recommend that anyone looking to get a tongue scraper (an awesome and tiny investment that will go a long way towards great oral hygiene) get a metal version as opposed to a plastic one. They're far easier to keep clean and therefore better to stick in your mouth on a daily basis. :)

  • tera

    love this scene! thank you for the PSA as well. But seriously, I want to ask when is the ideal time to brush after drinking coffee or tea... I have read that immediately afterward is not best. Is this true? I can share one thing I've learned is that white wine actually can cause your teeth to stain MORE than red, because it creates vertical grooves in your teeth from which future stains cannot be removed ! why is everything good kind of bad for you ( play " It's a hard knock life here)

  • Celina

    I'm going to admit that I forget to floss too often, but I always drink water and brush my teeth. These were great tips, so thank you!

    Celina | The Celution | Bloglovin’

  • June

    Sonicare is awesome. As for tongue scraping I have a stainless steel tongue scraper that you hold with two hands (google 'metal tongue scraper'). It's very easy to remove a whole lot of grossness with two or three swipes.

  • Holly

    I loved this post! I love my Sonicare toothbrush and actually missed it when I went camping for a week and had to go without it. It really helps you get your gums so much cleaner than with a manual one.

  • JK

    I couldn't imagine living without my tongue scraper, but I really like oil pulling in the morning, too (sort of mouthwashing with coconut oil - just be careful not to spit it into your sink, it might clog it! if you spit it into a cup, it will solidify again, easy to remove) - it really removes a lot of the plaque and helps with sensitive gums.
    At night, I floss and use those little interdental brushes, apart from brushing my teeth, of course. I don't use mouthwash or electric toothbrushes - both not necessary if you're using the right technique. Additionally, mouthwash is often too harsh and contains too many nasty chemicals.
    I go to my dentist for a deep cleaning about twice a year - not cheap, but since then, I haven't had any troubles with my teeth! (And it's almost impossible to remove all plaque and stains from coffee, tea or red wine on your own - even if you are using mouthwash, whitening stripes, etc that eventually just harm your purse and your enamel!)
    I really recommend using a tongue scraper - brushing your tongue with your toothbrush doesn't actually remove all the bacteria, etc from your tongue, and it's more difficult to actually cleanse your toothbrush afterwards than a tongue scraper, especially if it's one of those stainless steel ones. It's cheap, it lasts forever, and it's easy to disinfect it every once in a while just by boiling it.

  • evremedusa

    as a dentist I'm really happy to see some oral hygiene posts! It's so so important for general health too. Great post! Keep brushing and flossing dolls!

  • Caroline Evertz

    So glad there is a post on this! I recently moved and started a new dentist who is the best and finally convinced me to floss daily. I'll never go back. I actually notice a difference in my sinuses the next morning if I skip a day.

    I'm a fan of Biotene mouthwash, which I have to use for my dry mouth (I'm the sleeping beauty who snores with her mouth open. Not cute, not good for oral hygiene). I haven't used a tongue scrapper but after all these comments I may pick one up on my next drugstore visit.

    Does ITG or readers have opinions on teeth whitening? I was considering buying one of those Crest kits but notice they start now a $45! I see all those Pinterest pins for DIY whitening, like using lemon and baking soda, and I always wonder how great that is for enamel. Would one round be really damaging or do you just have to make sure you don't get compulsive with it?

    • lainey

      I have not tried this yet, but I have read that activated charcoal is a cheap, non-toxic way to whiten teeth....need to check that out...

    • tera

      Hi "Aurora",
      Have your dentist include a scraper in the gift bag they offer at the end of your visit. Mine does! The Crest strips are VERY good, and dentists themselves do recommend them. ( a family friend is a dentist so I know it's not BS) If you are looking to save a little money, consider that often you do not have to use all the strips immediately. use 1/2 the pack, I bet you will see impressive results, and save the rest for 6 months from now. Drugstore spinbrushes also impress me to remove crevice stains

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  • AC

    I actually have an electronic toothbrush with a mini tongue scraper on the back. Super convenient.

  • Brooke

    These are really good tips and you will definitely benefit from them but even if you scrape/brush your tongue every day it won't stop the "white stuff" coming back, which you can do. I'm no expert but I think that in a lot of cases, white tongue (especially first thing in the morning) is actually Candida and is called oral thrush (gross, I know). You can stop it coming back from addressing the Candida in your tummy. I have definitely seen a huge difference. And I'm pretty sure that Listerine, which kills almost 100% of bacteria, it is killing the bad AND good bacteria and I find that it makes my breath worse in the long run. Instead, I rinse my mouth with hydrogen peroxide before bed and there is no sign of bad breath or white tongue in the morning. Has anyone else heard the same information as I have and tried this out?


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Oral-B Glide Floss Whitening + Scope
LISTERINE Antiseptic Mouthwash
ACT Total Care
ACT Total Care Rinse Icy Clean
Twooth Timer Easy To Use Brushing Timer For Kids
Sonicare Toothbrush
Breath Rx
Breath Rx Tongue Scraper