Everyone knows that brushing their teeth reduces the risk of cavities and keeps the teeth clean and strong. But did you know that there are other habits that can potentially harm your teeth? The beverages you drink, your nervous habits, and even your brushing techniques can cause harm.
You could be wrecking your teeth without even knowing it. A large number of the habits on this list are ones that most people engage in. You might think that grinding your teeth or biting your nails is a bad idea, but do you know just how much it may be harming your teeth and gums?
Some of these harmful effects might not show up immediately, but if the bad habit is repeated frequently then they will begin to show over time.
If you are guilty of any of these ten habits then you should stop immediately. Read on to learn how to protect those pearly whites!
- Brushing incorrectly. With the rise in popularity of electronic toothbrushes, people are beginning to realize that brushing your teeth is not as straightforward as it seems. The electronic brushes spin in circles, a motion which dentists recommend over straight side-to-side strokes. Your protective enamel is made of tightly packed glass-like rods that extend straight out, so brushing sideways can cause these rods to crack (leading to cracked and weakened teeth).
Dentists also recommend that you tilt your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to your teeth and focus on small sections at a time. The bottom of your teeth, or the chewing surface, is the only place where it is ok to brush from side-to-side. Finally, after you have completely brushed your teeth you should brush lightly at the gum line and over the gums to clear away loose bacteria and plague.
- Brushing too vigorously. You might think brushing harder will help clear away all of the plague and food debris, but actually brushing too hard can cause breaking in your enamel. Brushing too hard in a sideways motion is even worse, as it can cause abfraction lesions (or notches near the gum line). Continued rough brushing can cause these lesions to move down into the inner dentin and cementum layers of the tooth.
If you have sensitive gums then vigorous brushing can also cause gum irritation and even recession. Buying brushes with soft or ultra-soft bristles can help minimize the destruction on your teeth. But even the softest of bristles can become frayed and rough over time, so you should replace your toothbrush about every three months.
- Failing to floss. This is a common bad habit that many people are guilty of. Flossing can be annoying and seem like a waste of time, but your teeth will thank you if you give it a shot. Bacteria likes to get down between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach. Here it will destroy enamel and cause cavities. The only way to get between your teeth is to floss.
Even those that do floss occasionally think they can get by with a hasty once over. But it is important that you take the time to get between all of your teeth and to make sure that you go down the full length of the tooth. Just be gentle because rough and hurried flossing can hurt your gums. Try flossing while reading or watching TV to make it seem like less of a chore.
- Thumb sucking. This probably doesn’t apply to most people reading this article (no judgment here if it does), but it is something that everyone has done at one point in their lives. It is natural for babies to suck on their thumbs, but they should stop soon after their permanent teeth begin to come (usually around the age of five or six).
Once the permanent teeth are in, prolonged thumb sucking can lead to misaligned teeth and a damaged jaw structure. These permanent changes are painful, and misaligned teeth can lead to issues like difficulty with chewing and breathing. Try to discourage your child from thumb sucking as soon as possible to save them from surgery later in life.
- Nail biting. Most people know that biting your nails will harm the appearance of your fingers, but this nervous habit can also hurt your teeth and cause oral hygiene issues. It is possible that the teeth could crack or the enamel could break from biting your fingers. People who bite their nails frequently are at risk of shifting their teeth out of place. Also, your fingers are most likely dirty from day to day activity, so putting all of that bacteria in your mouth is a bad idea.
- Jaw clenching and grinding. Going along with nervous habits, clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth can also cause tooth damage. Grinding is technically referred to as bruxism, and the unnatural pressure you are putting on your teeth can lead to microfractures or actual fractures. Clenching your jaw exerts the same levels of pressure, and the fractures can lead to even worse problems for your teeth.
For most people, clenching and grinding are unconscious behaviors that result from anxiety and stress. Sometimes it happens when we sleep, and this is known as sleep bruxism. You can wear a mouth guard at night to help prevent sleep bruxism, but because these habits happen unconsciously they are very difficult to break. Talk to your dentist about possible prevention and treatment.
- Excessive soda and alcohol. Soda is so good to taste, but it’s so bad for your teeth. It’s practically an acid bath, with sugars, critic acids, and phosphoric acids all looking to create bacteria and cause tooth decay. Many people drink caffeine free and diet soda because it doesn’t have all the sugar. This is true, but these “healthy” drinks also have an increased level of acids that will invade your enamel.
Alcohol of all kinds has acidic properties that cause erosion in your teeth. Alcohol also reduces saliva production and dries up your mouth. Saliva is necessary for removing plague and bacterial buildup on the surface of your teeth, so removing it lets bacteria roam free. You just have to make sure you have a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage, not stop drinking entirely (Read: 10 Amazing Beers You’ll Be Drinking This Summer).
- Chewing on things. People chew on all kinds of strange things, but the most popular are pencils and ice cubes. Repetitive chewing on foreign objects will increase the risk of chipping and damaging your teeth. Ice in particular can be very harmful, and regular crunching could irritate the soft tissue in your teeth and lead to painful toothaches. Chewing and chomping should be done on food and sugar-free gum, nothing more.
- Using your teeth as a tool. In the absence of a pair of scissors or a knife, some people feel compelled to use their teeth to rip off price tags, open a bag of candy, or tear off tape. Using your teeth in ways they were not meant to be used can lead to cracks, chips, and breaks. Also, it can damage any preexisting dental work you have.
- Smoking and chewing. We end with one of the hardest habits to break of all time, namely the use of nicotine products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Smoking and chewing have multiple health hazards, but they also cause yellowing of the teeth, blackened gums, gum disease (leading to tooth loss), and various forms of oral cancer. Both are a bad idea, but chewing is even worse because the harmful ingredients are in direct contact with your gums and stay there for an extended amount of time.
These are ten of the top habits that harm your teeth, but the list could go on and on. Candy, carbonated drinks, and even cough drops can damage and destroy your teeth. Your smile makes all the difference in first impressions (be it in business or on a date), so it is a good idea to take care of your teeth. Strong teeth and healthy gums are definitely something to grin about.