Beeminder Forum

Beeminding Teeth Brushing

In this week’s blog post, there was a comment at the end about how brushing teeth is one of the most popular Beeminder goals.


[1] Yes, you probably do brush your teeth more than once a day. We’ll get to that!

Tangent: The amount of people who beemind teeth brushing has always surprised me. Beeminder may be the most effective impetus for oral health on the whole internet. Was it difficult to remember without Beeminder poking you? How often do you brush your teeth with Beeminder vs. without? Has your dentist noticed the improved beehavior? Do you even go to the dentist regularly? If you beemind this, please email me at support and let me know why you do so. I won’t judge you! I just want to understand.

Brushing my teeth (or rather, wanting to do so more regularly) was actually the goal that inspired me to try Beeminder. There are a couple reasons why I think it’s actually a perfect use case (which are probably similar to those for flossing):

  1. it should be done regularly,
  2. it’s relatively easy to just do it since it just takes a minute,
  3. if it’s not yet a habit it’s easy to let it slide.

I wanted to go further on (3) because it’s probably a point that’s hard to understand if you have always been an adult who has a teeth brushing habit. Having talked with friends about this, it’s hard for them to conceive how gross it would be to go to bed or wake up without brushing their teeth. They crave that minty feeling the way many of us crave morning coffee.

I was always very ashamed that I didn’t have a regular teeth brushing habit, but it was something that I had tried and failed to do many times. I knew that brushing my teeth was important long term for my oral health, since I was in my 20s and already had some gingivitis. I looked forward to a visit to the dentist without them having to use the “power cleaner.” But in the moment, when I was reading, cozy in bed, it was easy to turn out the lights and fall asleep and say that I’d do it in the morning. I probably brushed my teeth between 2 - 5 nights per week.

Brushing my teeth was a notable example of my inability to form important habits. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that my childhood was notably lacking in habits or predictability. I didn’t have a tooth brushing or house cleaning routine as an adult, but I also never had a routine of brushing my teeth, cleaning up, washing my face, or really anything else, as a kid. This produced an adult who’s pretty easy-going and resilient but not someone who is shocked by a night without brushing my teeth or a day without sunscreen.

Creating an external incentive (and pairing it with cool, inspiring graphs) has empowered me to start forming these habits in my life. I’m now someone who brushes my teeth regularly (and craves that minty freshness! who woulda thought!), exercises semi-regularly, and cleans my room weekly. I can’t wait to see my dentist.


How do these people eat breakfast? You can’t brush your teeth and then eat…

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As one of those weirdos who brushes their teeth immediately upon waking up (and would find it gross not to do so), the answer is very simple: I don’t eat breakfast immediately after brushing my teeth. (In fact I usually get up several hours before I eat breakfast, but you wouldn’t have to wait that long.)


Yeah, brushing your teeth is a pain and it’s so annoying. It’s easy to just not do it. It’s not that it’s hard to remember exactly. Just not a daily habit.

I’m fascinated by this idea that some people are surprised by this… how is that possible? Like why wouldn’t someone Beemind it?

I am also someone who needs to beemind brushing my teeth! There are a lot of reasons why I developed the habit of not cleaning my teeth*, and it’s proved a very difficult one to deal with. The going to bed part is actually down to an art, now. I do it automatically, and I’ve missed it once in the whole of the last year. I think I originally made that stick with Habitica’s help? Or maybe just a streak tracker… anyway, I cannot seem to get the same trick to work again on brushing my teeth in the morning. I beemind it, but it still regularly derails.

So, I hear you! And I wish I could beemind it a liiiiiittle more effectively…

* One is that as a kid I was told that if I cleaned up my act and kept my teeth clean, I would be “allowed” to get braces – but my best friend was always in pain with her braces, and I didn’t trust my dentist, so I emphatically didn’t want to clean up my act and clean my teeth!


Yeah, it’s amazing how stuff like that from childhood interferes with our goals - for me it’s not wanting to be told what to do. I was always made to brush my teeth so not brushing them represents adulthood and freedom to me. And when I read

I shuddered a little - I emphatically do not want to become such a person and would not self-modify to do so - if I could press a button to become such a person I would not.

I’ve posted a little on the forum about Coherence Therapy, a technique of looking at inner conflict and trying to resolve it in some way (not always the way you expect, i.e., you might end up resolving this conflict by no longer wanting to beemind teeth-brushing!).

Coherence Therapy is basically the opposite of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). As numerous published criticisms of CBT in the literature point out, the CBT materials describe a very problematic approach; the research suggests that in clinical practice CBT often ends up with people arguing against their internal motivations, rather than trying to understand them. So Coherence Therapy was developed to address and embody the parts of you that do things you don’t like, and understand the internal logic of them - it’s similar to Internal Family Systems in that way.

As an example, the Coherence approach would involve writing on an index card something like

I can’t brush my teeth regularly. If I do, I’ll end up with braces and in pain. I can’t trust dentists, and I know if I brush my teeth regularly I’ll end up with dentists inflicting pain on me. I know it’s not good for my teeth to avoid brushing them, but it’s better than always being in pain.

Or in my case

I can’t brush my teeth regularly. That would mean being a kid again and not being in control. It would mean I’m doing what I’m told, rather than having freedom and being an adult in charge of my own choices. Fuck that! I know it’s not good for my teeth to avoid brushing them, but it’s better than being made to do things!

And then taking that card and reading it out loud every day.

The idea is that by doing that you get more in touch with the parts that are resisting your goal, and this helps resolve the conflict.

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Huh, that’s actually a really interesting point about your childhood lacking in habits/predictability. I’m also someone who “can’t habit” – I joke that there’s nothing I do every day, including eating and sleeping! – and I’ve never understood why. But thinking about it, my childhood also didn’t really have much consistency, and my parents never really had any internally-motivated habits. Everything was “clean the house when company comes”, “wash the dishes when they’re all dirty and you need to eat”, etc. So yeah, it makes sense that as an adult I’ve had to figure out how to externalize the systems I need to do things regularly before they’ve become “a crisis”!

(And yes, I also beemind tooth brushing – it’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me, and I even have two separate tooth brushing goals, one for night and one for morning. I’ve never even CONSIDERED brushing in the morning, so it’s really a huge step forward for me! Also @zedmango I don’t have an issue eating breakfast right after brushing, but I don’t use a mint-flavored toothpaste, so that probably helps – it turns out I hate the burning sensation of mint, which is probably one of the reasons I hated brushing my teeth as a kid.)