A time for new habits

Apr 22,2020

Twice in my life I heard the same advice from two very different but successful people. The first time was on a college tour I was taking at Northwestern University, when I was a high school senior. The tour guide had been valedictorian of his class, was currently a sophomore studying journalism, held a position on the school paper, worked at the school radio station, had a very active social life besides being on the honor roll. I asked him how he did it. Without hesitation he said – “ The busier I am, the more successful I am!”

Fast forward about 35 years, and I am in the nearest emergency department of a hospital with my elderly mother who had Alzheimer’s, a heart condition, and had fallen and broken the upper part of her leg near her hip. It is late at night, and besides lots of other types of doctors my mother had seen up to now, we did not have a relationship with an orthopedic surgeon, so the on-call surgeon came in and introduced himself. I saw from the screen on the wall that my mother was not the only surgery on his schedule that night, and amidst all the bustle of nurses and other doctors, Dr. Protomastro came up to me, introduced himself, and told me about the surgery he would be doing. I couldn’t help but ask how he was, if he was tired, did he need a cup of coffee, and he answered me, without hesitation, “If you want something done right, you ask a busy person. That’s me. Your mother is in good hands.”

So both of these people, one younger, one more experienced, operated on a bit of chaos, certainly on being busy, scheduled, with things to do. I wonder what each of them are doing right about now when we are all being told to stay home! Sure we can all think of things to keep ourselves busy, but I hear from friends and colleagues is that since it isn’t the same as our lives in the pre-Coronavirus work days, we easily get distracted. We aren’t that productive. We aren’t sticking to a schedule. Which scares me on many levels, especially as a dentist.

A friend I was speaking with the other day confessed that at 2pm she was still in her pajamas! So if she was still not dressed, had she brushed her teeth? If we aren’t sticking with our schedules, I am thinking a lot of people aren’t following their daily routine of oral hygiene.

This is a perfect time to start a new routine. The American Dental Association recommends brushing for 2 minutes twice a day. Most people and patients tell me they just don’t have that time to brush. Well now you do. I also have read that it takes 66 days to develop a habit. That may be how long we will be told to stay home. So I think we can all do this – start a daily routine of 2 minutes with that toothbrush and paste. Most powered toothbrushes have a timer in them, along with a user-friendly tutorial on how to use that fancy powered brush. If you need some help, go to the ADA website under mouthhealthy.org and there is a lot of patient education for you to read. I am sure you have the time for it . And if you really want to up your game – add some flossing! Think of how impressed your dentist and hygienist will be when we all emerge from our homes and can go to that next dental appointment.

So although the adage of busy people are accomplished, successful and efficient – that’s not to say that during a period of idle time we can’t start a good new habit that we hopefully will keep when our lives get once again filled with other things.