Let me describe a situation for you. Imagine you’re walking into a room full of potential business associates to introduce yourself for the first time.
There’s one catch.
All your teeth have fallen out.
Would you be confident? Could you speak clearly and communicate well? Or, would you be able to enter the room at all?
While your teeth are vitally important, we often don’t stop to think of the habits that may be damaging them. There are many day-to-day things you’re doing, that can put our smile at risk.
I see many patients that think dentures or fake teeth are their destiny. We should never think like that! Looking after your teeth starts when we’re children and extends right through to adulthood.
7 Hidden Habits That Damage Your Teeth
Let’s look at seven lesser discussed habits that may be hurting our teeth.
1. Chewing hard glassy objects like candy and ice
Your teeth are for chewing, there’s no question. And chewing is actually good for your jaws and mouth. However, we have access to foods that are not quite designed for your tooth enamel.
Two types of foods that I see break teeth on a daily basis are hard, glass-like foods, such as hard candies and plain old ice! You know the crunch when you bite down into a hard candy? That can cause big problems to your teeth, even if you don’t have any issues in the first place. Not to mention they provide a concentrated sugar hit, that can lead to tooth decay in the future.
I see some patients that have a craving to chew ice, is that you? You may want to look a bit deeper, there could be a cause for this urge. Studies show that iron deficiency anemia may cause a craving for the tactile feedback of chewing ice cubes.
2. Replacing mouthwash with floss
For a quick, on-the-go option for a fresh mouth, many people love mouthwash. I often see patients that think that it actually negates the need for flossing.
Some studies suggest that mouthwash can work as well as floss. We need to understand what this actually means. Flossing removes the plaque that sits between your teeth (45% according to studies), and a mouthwash can’t replace the mechanic action of floss.
Mouthwash kills certain microbes in the mouth, but to be clear, we don’t know exactly which ones. I don’t recommend my patients use mouthwash for this reason. Mouthwash may harm your oral and gut microbiome. Your mouth also communicates directly to the gut which relies on you swallowing those probiotic oral bacteria.
Learn More: Anti-Bacterial Homemade Mouthwash Recipe
3. Drinking Sports Beverages
One look at the packaging of sports drinks on supermarket shelves makes you think it’s an athlete fuel.
However, like many packaged foods, the reality doesn’t live up to the expectation. To begin with, many have plenty of extra sugar, which has a higher concentration in liquids. Alongside an acidic pH (3 or below), sports drinks can cause the loss of minerals which can erode your tooth enamel.
Actually, any flavored drink or fruit juice can take your teeth into this dangerous territory.
The solution? Good old water. It has a pH above 7 which helps your tooth enamel to stay strong for life.
4. Using Your Teeth as Tools
Your teeth are useful, no one denies it. However, it doesn’t mean they can take on any job you assign them to. Many people attempt to use their teeth to open cans, cut like knives, replace scissors, or even pliers. You may get away with it once or twice, but you’re putting your smile at risk!
One of the most difficult syndromes to treat when restoring a tooth is cracked tooth syndrome. Symptoms include a sharp tooth pain or sensitivity to cold. The crack can be in any part of the tooth, and if it’s in a hard to reach place a restoration may not save your tooth!
Even harmless habits like chewing on your pen may increase your risk of cracked tooth syndrome.
These habits can be subconscious so make sure you’re not using your teeth in a way that puts them in danger!
5. Teeth Grinding and Jaw Clenching
Ever wake up at night with a sore jaw? Teeth grinding or clenching is extremely common in people today. Also known as bruxism, it’s when you move the jaw and press the teeth together with force.
The result is that you can wear the enamel away on your teeth, which is precious! Sometimes teeth grinding comes alongside stress. However, it can also be a sign you don’t breathe well at night. When you fall asleep you relax the muscles in your face and jaw and your airways close. The brain may move the jaw forward to open the airway. Snoring and sleep apnea can starve your brain of oxygen at night.
Try to get to the root cause of your teeth grinding. A mandibular advancement splint can hold your jaw forward and prevent airway closure which may stop grinding.
6. Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking
Oral habits chewing habits can range from nail biting to chronically chewing objects, or using teeth as tools. Biting nails can cause the same issues that may cause tooth pain, such as cracked tooth syndrome.
Thumb sucking can also deform the teeth and increase the risk of a type of a bite called an ‘open bite’. This may increase a child’s risk of braces. To reverse a thumbsucking it must be identified as a programmed ‘habit’. Habit reversal strategies can be employed to prevent any adverse dental problems. Don’t let bad habits
7. Skipping Regular Check-Ups
The last one is pretty obvious. Your dental visit allows a close eye to be cast on your teeth and gums. People who don’t visit the dentist regularly have poorer dental health. It will spot the signs early, which may help prevent disease, but also can diagnose and treat early, allowing for minimal intervention.
You should discuss with your dentist the frequency they think is necessary to monitor your situation.
4 Things You Should Do to Maintain Healthy Teeth
- Identify and eliminate risky and harmful habits for your teeth
- Brush and Floss Regularly (use mouthwash only in addition to these if you like or have been advised by your dentist)
- See your dentist for regular check-ups
- Eat foods that nourish your teeth and gums. I outline the exact way in The Dental Diet, it comes with a 40-day meal plan to help you along.
Dr. Steven Lin is currently the Principal Dentist at Luminous Dentistry, a dental practice on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, that strives to give individuals of all ages the best possible smile.
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