Let’s be honest, no one actually enjoys brushing their teeth, but that doesn’t mean we don’t spend a lot of time doing it. In fact, according to the Oral Health Foundation, if we all brushed for two minutes, twice a day, we’d be brushing for more than 82 days of our lives! That’s a whole lot of time to be spending on our teeth – precious time you could actually be wasting if you’re doing it all wrong. And according to celebrity dentist Dr. Michael Apa, most of us are…
The go-to guy for just about everyone (Huda Kattan, Karen Wazen, Elsa Hosk, and the Olsen twins included), it’s safe to say that he knows a thing or two about achieving perfect pearly whites. Our Beauty Editor tapped Dr. Apa for all his top teeth-brushing tips to find out how we can get a celebrity smile armed with just toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a roll of floss. Yes, it really is possible. Here’s how.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when they brush their teeth?
What do you think it is?
Hmm… not spending long enough?
There is that, but the biggest mistake is when people don’t use an electric toothbrush and still use a manual one. An electric toothbrush relies on a timer, so you can’t cheat. It shuts off after two minutes. It also vibrates after 30 seconds because you’re supposed to spend 30 seconds on each quadrant.
The proper brushing technique is to brush in small circles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline for two minutes, which is almost impossible to do with a manual toothbrush. And I know because I’ve tried it! Who’s going to do that? So how do you brush your teeth with a manual toothbrush? You just go quickly up and down and around the mouth, and you’re done – 30 seconds for your whole mouth. That’s the biggest mistake – just buy an electric toothbrush!
When it comes to electric toothbrushes, what should we be looking out for?
It should definitely have the word ‘Apa’ on it [laughs]. No, the truth is you can buy any electric toothbrush, so long as it’s not a battery-powered one because they’re really weak. You want one that’s legit, the ones that you charge. A really good electric toothbrush has between 40,000 to 60,000 revolutions per second in the brush head, and that’s what you’re looking for.
You’ve said how hard it is to brush using the right technique with a manual brush…
So what should you do with an electric toothbrush?
Well, you’re supposed to just hold it there. You spend 30 seconds on each quadrant, brushing the front, the back, and where you chew, holding the toothbrush against the tooth.
Apa Beauty ‘Apa Clean White Sonic Toothbrush’
What about the toothpaste and products we use?
My thought process is that the products you give your patients should be specific to their needs. We don’t have the same teeth, and there are many different issues that people encounter. For instance, some people have really sensitive teeth, and they should be using potassium nitrate in their toothpaste because it’s a desensitizer – it’s what Sensodyne and things like that have in it. Others are afraid of fluoride, but there are alternatives like hydroxyapatite, which we have in our toothpaste and strengthens the enamel.
Should we be scared of fluoride?
No! Look, you’re not going to use hydroxyapatite because it’s too expensive, that’s the issue. But fluoride’s amazing, and you should be using it if you’re not buying hydroxyapatite. It’s what prevents cavities and strengthens the enamel of the teeth. When we were kids, the hygienist used to give us fluoride trays, which is this really tangy goop in a styrofoam tray, and you have to bite into it for a minute and then you’re not supposed to drink or eat anything for 30 minutes after! Then, like with everything in the world, people became paranoid about fluoride, so a lot of places don’t give it anymore. But I’m a huge believer that you should still be giving it because it really saves people’s teeth.
So how are you getting that in other ways? There’s fluoride in mouthwash and toothpaste, and you should be using it in copious amounts. Or you can use something like ACT mouth rinse, which tastes just like those trays – terrible! – but it has massive amounts of fluoride that bathe your teeth. I would say one thing that you should not use is Listerine as it has massive amounts of alcohol in it, which dries your mouth out and doesn’t allow you to produce saliva that fights bacteria.
So we should be using mouthwash, too?
100 percent! You should be using toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, and – if you want to venture into it – an antioxidant gel for your gums, which we have. It’s also something that is massively overlooked. Do that twice a day!
There’s such a big trend for natural products. What do you think about natural oral-hygiene products?
I’m just the wrong person to ask, you know? No, I don’t think you should use them. I’m being honest! I think there are things in mass-produced dental products that you really benefit from, aren’t harmful, and your teeth need – one of them being fluoride!
You touched on flossing. Is there a right or wrong way to floss?
It can be any way you want, but it should be twice a day. This is the problem – you need to keep your teeth until life is no longer for you, and that’s a long time. And they can go pretty quickly! I had no cavities as a kid until I was around 31. And being honest, that’s when I was skipping flossing and being lazy about it.
As you get older, your gums recede and you trap more food – even talking to you now I’m paranoid there’s food in my teeth because I just ate! It didn’t use to be like that 10 years ago, and things in my mouth have drastically changed over the past decade. It’s like being really thin when you’re young and thinking you can eat whatever you want for the rest of your life, but it will catch up to you!
I know it sounds gross, but bacteria forms a hard pellicle beneath your gums, and that’s what causes those cavities in between your teeth. And it happens super quick. One weekend of being super lazy with your teeth and not flossing, and it will start to form, and little bits will add to it every time you eat.
Is there a recommended way to floss?
Teeth have a contact point two-thirds of the way up, where they meet. What you’re doing is you’re flossing through the contact, where you get that ‘pop’, and you go up the gum on both sides. That’s what will break all that stuff up. Your gums are so resilient, so you can be pretty hard on your gums. I’m not saying jam your floss up in there, but being gentle is actually worse. Sometimes when people are too gentle, they’re not actually cleaning it – you do have to be a little aggressive.
As you said, gums are really overlooked. What should we be doing to look after them properly?
The earliest sign that something’s up with your gums is bleeding and if you bleed when you brush, go see a dentist because you need a good cleaning! It’s not a terrible problem, but it means there’s inflammation somewhere, and the inflammation is swelling – and that’s bacteria. If you have an ill-fitting crown or ill-fitting filling, or if you have a tiny little gap where food gets stuck in all the time, it creates a pocket of bacteria, which causes bad breath, which in turn leads to bleeding.
The best thing, especially as you get older, is to have a professional cleaning every four months. When you’re younger, every six. But like I said, you get more problems when you get older – I’m talking 40 and above. Other than that, if you get an electric toothbrush, stay on top of flossing, and use a mouthwash, your gums should be fine.
Complete the sentence: to me, a beautiful smile is…
One that you love.