9 Habits That Can Wreck Your Teeth
Avoid these pitfalls to protect your pearly whites
You bite down on a piece of hard candy, a stone that accidentally got into in your bean soup or a piece of shell from a nut and suddenly — crack! — a piece of your tooth chips off.
You may not be able to avoid the random stone in your food (though you should always rinse dry beans and carefully pick through them before using), but there are plenty of other dental hazards you can avoid by changing a few bad habits. Here are nine to avoid if prefer not to chip, crack, loosen or wear down your teeth.
Sipping acidic drinks all day. When you drink pretty much anything besides plain water, you’re creating an acidic environment in your mouth, which can cause cavities, says Maria Lopez Howell, DDS, a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. So, if you’re going to drink coffee, soda, sports drinks, tea or even zero-calorie flavored sparkling water, do so with a meal, then give your mouth a rest. That means you should enjoy your meal (or healthy snack) in one sitting. Avoid sipping, munching and chewing throughout the day. After you eat or drink, your saliva can take your mouth from acidic to neutral in under an hour, Howell says. “Saliva has wonderful healing properties.”
Eating hard candy. With hard candy, there are two ways to eat it: chew it — a huge no-no — or let it slowly dissolve in your mouth. Option one can chip or crack your teeth. “They’re called jawbreakers for a reason,” Howell says. Option two gives bacteria in your mouth plenty of sugar to feed on and creates an acidic environment while the candy is sitting in your mouth.
Chewing on ice and other hard stuff. Don’t chomp on ice, fingernails, pens or other hard items, which all can chip your teeth, especially if you have dental work such as crowns or veneers on your front teeth, Howell says.
Using your teeth as tools. Forget about opening packages with your teeth. “Don’t use your teeth as tools — we have scissors and fingers for that,” she says.
Using homemade toothpaste. There are plenty of recipes online for making toothpaste with baking soda that will supposedly whiten your teeth. But baking soda can damage your enamel, Howell says. Skip the homemade paste and use an ADA-accepted toothpaste with fluoride, she recommends. And if you need your teeth whitened, talk to your dentist, she says. (A toothpaste is probably not the best way to do it.)
Carrying pencils in your mouth. Don’t walk around with pens, pencils or other items in your beak, Howell says. “You could bump into a wall or fall and all of sudden you hurt your teeth, gums or tissues in your mouth.”
Getting your tongue or lip pierced. It might look cool (at least to you), but an oral piercing can harm your teeth, gums and fillings, according to MouthHealthy.com, a website from the ADA. Often, people with piercings develop a habit of clicking the metal against teeth, according to the ADA. Dentists sometimes see fractures on the insides of teeth in patients with mouth piercings, says Howell. Piercings also can cause scratches on the teeth and tooth sensitivity, according to the ADA. If you do have a piercing, avoid clacking it against your teeth and be careful when chewing and talking, the ADA recommends.
Playing sports without a mouth guard. Many sports aren’t kind to teeth — just ask any hockey player. Tooth fractures, loosened teeth and knocked-out teeth are unfortunate side effects of plenty of different sports. Mouthguards can help reduce injury to teeth not just in contact sports like hockey, boxing or football, but also in other sports, such as gymnastics, according to the ADA. The organization recommends mouthguards for almost 30 sports, including acrobatics, basketball, bicycling, ice hockey, martial arts, skydiving, water polo and wrestling. If you play a sport, talk to your dentist about what kind of mouthguard to get.
Grinding your teeth. Stress can lead to teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, which often happens while you’re asleep, according to MouthHealthy.com. If you grind your teeth, you probably can’t stop, Howell says. But using a night guard is one simple way to protect your teeth, she says. If your teeth grinding is caused by stress, counseling, exercise ad meditation might help, according to the ADA.
It’s also important to brush twice a day for two minutes, floss once a day and visit your dentist regularly. Notes Howell, “Once you’ve got your adult teeth, you don’t get another set.”
Related: Why Your Gums Are Receding