Get them in the habit!

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  Posted by: Dental Design      4th March 2021

Getting patients to follow an effective oral care routine at home is easier said than done. There are always patients who don’t brush their teeth enough or who refuse to floss – and this can be very frustrating, especially as these behaviours are likely to put them at higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

But why are people so bad at following oral hygiene routines? By delving into the psychology behind the problem, a solution can often be found…

Oral hygiene habits at home

According to a YouGov survey that assessed the brushing habits of the British public, a staggering 30% of people don’t brush their teeth twice a day and 2% don’t brush them at all.[i] What’s particularly concerning about these survey results is the likelihood that the numbers could be higher – when faced with surveys where people know there is a correct answer to give, many people will give that answer to make them appear better than they are.[ii]

When it comes to flossing, these figures are even worse. According to statistics gathered for the Oral Health Foundation’s National Smile Month in 2019, one in three people have never flossed or cleaned interdentally, let alone doing it the recommended once a day.[iii]

But why is this the case?

Busy lives, busy people

There are many potential reasons why oral health routines can fall by the wayside, and these can vary from person to person. One option may simply be that people don’t feel like they have enough time in the morning and evening to complete the required tasks. We live in a fast paced world, and even though many have been able to work from home during the pandemic, most people previously had a commute and a rushed morning schedule to get through, meaning flossing was left to one side even if teeth were being brushed.

Another potential reason is that people have unreliable schedules, which makes forming routines hard. Habit formation effectively depends on people repeating a task until it becomes subconscious. In other words, something like flossing needs to be performed daily and at the same time each day so that it finally becomes a routine. This habit, if broken, means that flossing can easily be forgotten or skipped, especially as even though it brings health benefits, it is not something that is considered a pleasant experience.[iv]

There’s also a chance that a lack of education could be to blame. If patients are unaware of how often they should floss, then it makes sense that they will not be reaching these goals. It could also be the case that people don’t like the feel of flossing or find it too difficult.

We also need to consider that there is one other potential cause – sheer laziness. Some individuals will refuse to implement oral hygiene techniques because they simply choose not to add to their existing routine. 

What can dental professionals do to help?

The key here is identifying the reason that each patient finds interdental cleaning difficult. You may discover that some patients struggle with time due to work or family responsibilities.

Perhaps a patient doesn’t clean interdentally because they find string floss too difficult or fiddly to use and struggle to clean between their teeth with it effectively. It’s important to have an open an honest conversation about it and not be judgemental. This way you can speak candidly about their experiences and pinpoint the cause much more efficiently.

Once this is done, it’s worthwhile recommending the available options that will help people to form good habits. The Waterpik® Water Flosser, for example, is an easy-to-use and efficient piece of technology that can eliminate a number of problems that people have when using traditional string floss. It only requires one minute of use per day to perform a deep clean between teeth and below the gum line, and it is simple to understand and slot into any schedule, helping to promote positive habit formation among many patients.

Support better interdental cleaning

As with many aspects of dentistry, the way to help each patient will entirely depend on his or her individual circumstances and needs. Open communication can easily help ascertain where things are going wrong, and this gives you a great launchpad from which to help resolve their aversion to interdental cleaning, especially if you recommend products that are fast, easy-to-use and effective.


For more information on Waterpik® products please visit Waterpik® products are available from Amazon, Asda, Costco UK, Argos, Boots, Superdrug online and in stores across the UK and Ireland.

Book a free Waterpik® professional Lunch and Learn for 1 hour of verifiable CPD and a free Waterpik® Water Flosser – available either face to face or as a webinar – at 


Author: Maxwell O’Neill, professional educator for Waterpik


[i] YouGov. Three in Ten Brits Only Brush Their Teeth Once a Day. Link: [Last accessed November 20].

[ii] InfoSurv. Five Reasons Why Survey Respondents Don’t Tell The Truth. Link: [Last accessed November 20].

[iii] Oral Health Foundation. National Smile Month. Oral Health Statistics In The UK Link: [Last accessed November 20].

[iv] Psychology Today. Habit Formation. Link: [Last accessed November 20].

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