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10 Bad Dental Health Habits You Should Avoid

Posted on December 10, 2020

You know what to do to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and you’ve made oral health part of your routine. Brush twice a day, floss daily and see your dentist for cleanings and exams at least twice annually. While practicing good oral care is the secret to keeping your teeth in excellent shape, so is making sure you steer clear of habits or activities that can damage your teeth.

Several habits — many of which you might not even be aware of — can chip, crack or otherwise damage your teeth. Learn more about the causes of bad teeth and what you can do to keep your smile looking as good as possible.

1. Nail Biting

If you bite your nails when you are nervous, you are not alone. The Cleveland Clinic estimates up to 30% of Americans compulsively bite their nails and have difficulty stopping the habit on their own. Biting your nails can affect your mouth in a couple of ways. When you bite down on a nail, you risk chipping a tooth, due to the nail’s hardness and the force of the bite. Regular nail biting can also affect your jaw’s position. Chronic nail biting can lead to jaw problems, such as pain or lower jaw protrusion.

What can you do if you bite your nails? It depends on how often you bite them and how severe the problem is. Some people can train themselves not to bite by wearing nail polish that leaves a bitter taste. If your nail biting is constant or accompanied by another issue, such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you might want to work with a therapist to develop a plan to break the habit. A counselor might use behavioral therapy with you or teach you relaxation techniques to help you stop biting.

2. Chewing on Ice

On a hot summer’s day, chewing on an ice cube can seem like an excellent way to cool down. But, is eating ice bad for your teeth? Ice is hard, and the force of chewing on it can lead to cracks in your enamel, causing damage to your teeth. If you like to chew on ice to keep cool, it’s better to switch to another method of cooling off. Spraying yourself with a fine mist or drinking cold water can do the trick. Try leaving ice out of your drinks, so you don’t feel the urge to chew on it after you’ve drunk all the liquid. Using a straw can also help you avoid getting ice in your mouth.

Sometimes, people with low iron levels in their blood develop pica, or a craving for non-food objects, such as ice. If that describes you, talk to your doctor or dentist about it. If you feel an intense desire to chew ice, it might be a good idea to have your iron levels checked.

3. Using Your Teeth as Tools

Your teeth are not knives or scissors, nor should you use them as an extra set of hands when yours are full. The only things you should use your teeth for are chewing and tearing food. If you often use them to rip tags off clothing, open packages or to hold keys or mail as you come in the door, you risk cracking or chipping your teeth. There’s also a chance of damaging your jaw due to the force of tearing or pressure on the teeth. If you are the type to hold things in your mouth, you could swallow them by accident. The items could also transfer germs to your mouth, making you more likely to get sick.

It is always a good idea to use the right tool for the job. When you have to cut a tag off a shirt or open a package, reach for a pair of scissors. If you need to open a bottle, use a utensil designed to remove the cap safely. Having those tools handy will help you avoid the temptation to tear things open with your teeth.

As for carrying items in your mouth, there are a few ways to break this unsanitary habit. One option is to get a larger bag that can hold everything you need. You can also wear clothing with pockets so you can tuck your keys away quickly after opening the door. If you are with another person, you can always ask them to carry items for you if you run out of hands.

4. Not Wearing a Mouthguard

Whether you are a weekend warrior or an Olympian in training, always wear a mouthguard when training for a sport. Athletes who do not wear a mouthguard are 60 times more likely to experience a dental injury. That injury can be a fracture of the tooth, a knocked-out tooth or a broken jaw.

Dental injuries are more common during sports that involve contact and collisions, such as hockey and football. But there is also a risk of injury in contact-free sports, such as gymnastics, swimming and dance. For that reason, it is a smart idea to wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth, gums and jaw during any physical activity.

You have options when it comes to getting a mouthguard. Some are available over the counter and designed to be “one size fits all.” Others are a boil-and-bite design, which allows you to shape them to your mouth after heating them. Mouthguards that offer the best protection are custom-made and fitted to your mouth by your dentist. A custom-made mouthguard will perfectly fit your teeth, reducing the risk of injury on the field, in the pool or on the dance floor.

5. Getting Oral Piercings

Some people pierce their tongue or lips to stand out from the crowd. While piercings can be a valid form of self-expression, there is a significant risk involved in having piercings in or around your mouth. Tongue piercings, for example, can chip the tooth enamel if you bite down on them by accident. The presence of metal jewelry in your mouth can compromise your teeth, causing cracks or other damage. The piercing can scrape your gums, causing injury. Piercings also bring the risk of infection, which can be severe in some cases.

If you like piercings, for the sake of your oral health, consider getting them on other areas of the body, not in or near the mouth. Think carefully before deciding to pierce anything, as getting a piercing will require you to take care of the area, keeping it clean to reduce the risk of infection. If you already have a tongue or lip pierced, talk to your dentist about the best way to care for the piercing to protect your gums and teeth.

6. Grinding Your Teeth

People grind their teeth for a wide range of reasons. Some people do it because they have high stress levels. Some do it because their teeth are misaligned and do not fit together correctly. Many people unconsciously grind their teeth in their sleep.

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, puts a considerable amount of wear on the teeth. It can erode the enamel over time and lead to fracturing or chipping of the teeth. Grinding the teeth can also cause headaches and jaw pain.

If you suspect you grind your teeth or know that you do, one way to protect your mouth is to have your dentist fit you for a nightguard to wear while you sleep. The guard will create a cushion between your top and bottom rows of teeth, easing the amount of pressure on them.

You can also learn relaxation techniques to ease tension in your body and make you less likely to grind or clench your teeth. Controlled breathing techniques, practicing meditation and getting more exercise are things you can do to ease stress. Your dentist might also recommend taking a muscle relaxer before bed to help your jaw relax.

7. Eating Sugary and Starchy Foods

Your diet plays a significant role in determining the overall health of your teeth, gums and mouth. Eating foods that are high in sugar and starches, such as candy and potato chips, can increase your risk of developing tooth decay. Drinking sugary beverages also increases your likelihood of developing cavities.

When you eat or drink sugary or starchy things, the bacteria that live in your mouth and on your teeth eat any leftover bits of food or drink residue. As they eat, they produce acids that wear away your enamel. Not only what you eat, but also how frequently you eat, can affect your oral health. If you graze throughout the day, you give bacteria more chances to produce acids that wear down your enamel.

Try to limit the amount of sugary or starchy foods you eat to protect your teeth from cavities. Always brush after a meal to wash away any remaining bits of food. If you can’t brush your teeth right away, rinse your mouth with water. It is also a good idea to limit eating and drinking to mealtimes, so bacteria do not have too many opportunities to damage your teeth.

8. Chewing on Pencils

If you tend to put a pencil or pen in your mouth when you are nervous or deep in thought, it is a good idea to break that habit for the sake of your teeth and mouth. Just like chewing on ice, chewing on pencils puts a lot of pressure on your teeth, which can lead to cracks or chipping. There is also the chance that you will spread bacteria or other germs in your mouth when you chew on a pencil or pen.

You can try a few things to break your chewing habit. Instead of chewing a pencil, chew sugar-free gum. Another thing to try is writing yourself a note, something along the lines of “Do not put your pencil in your mouth” or “Stop chewing!” Put the note near where you usually catch yourself chewing, like at your desk or on your laptop screen. Every time you see it, it will remind you to check and take the pen or pencil out of your mouth.

9. Brushing Too Hard

You want to brush your teeth for two minutes at a time, at least twice per day. It is possible to get too much of a good thing, though, and some people brush with excessive force. Brushing your teeth with too much pressure can cause the enamel to wear away, making the teeth more sensitive. It can also cause the gums to recede.

Use a gentle, light hand when brushing to keep your teeth in the best shape possible. If you are not sure whether you are using too much force, talk to your dentist. They can evaluate your mouth and let you know what they think. They can also show you the proper way to brush for the best results.

Another thing to try is switching up the type of bristles on your toothbrush. Look for a brush with soft bristles, rather than medium or hard, especially if you use a lot of pressure during brushing.

10. Smoking

Here is another reason to give up cigarettes and other tobacco products: Smoking is one of the worst habits for your teeth and gum health. When you smoke, you force your body to work harder to fight off infections, which increases your risk of gum disease. Smoking also slows down the healing process, meaning you will need longer to recover from gum disease and other oral health issues. Cigarettes also stain your teeth, making them look yellow. The smoke from cigarettes can give you bad breath, too.

If you are ready to quit, many resources are available to help you do it. Talk to your dentist about smoking cessation programs. You can try using a nicotine patch or gum to manage cravings. It can also be helpful to get a “quit buddy.” You can support each other on your smoking cessation journey and help keep each other accountable.

Take Care of Your Teeth: Book an Appointment With 209 NYC Dental Today

Your dentist can be an invaluable resource for keeping your teeth in great shape and helping you break any bad habits. To learn more about what you can do to protect your oral health, book an appointment with 209 NYC Dental today.

About Dr. Sophie Kwon

As a general dentist, Dr. Kwon can perform a range of procedures that assist patients. Her main concern is the oral health of her patients. She knows preventative care can eliminate many potential issues in this area, and she encourages patients to practice good dental hygiene, such as brushing twice a day and flossing. She can also explain how twice-yearly cleanings can alert the dentist to any emerging problems. When we catch these things early, they do not have time to grow into big issues that become expensive and time-consuming to treat.

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