Could you be hurting your teeth without realizing it? It’s more likely than you might think. Lots of tooth-damaging habits are very common, and most people have been guilty of at least one or two of them at some time. It might seem as though habits like chewing ice or biting your nails are no big deal, but in reality, these harmful habits can do major damage to your teeth over time.
What makes these habits so bad? Well, compared with other parts of your body, your teeth aren’t very resilient. They’re protected by an outer layer of enamel, but once that enamel is chipped or worn away, it can’t grow back. That’s why your teeth require regular, careful care like brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups. Even if you take good care of your teeth, though, there are a number of bad habits that can cause your enamel to chip or crack, resulting in cavities or other long-term damage.
1. Eating sugary snacks
If you want your teeth to stay healthy for a long time, avoid eating sugary foods. In particular, avoid letting sugary foods sit in your mouth for long periods of time. If you’ve got sugar in your mouth, it’s easier for harmful bacteria to grow there. Those bacteria produce acids that wear away at the enamel on your teeth, which makes you more likely to develop cavities.
Certain foods and eating habits are more damaging than others. Obviously, snacking on candy or cookies all day will damage your teeth in short order. But starchy foods, like pretzels and potato chips, can do just as much harm even though they don’t taste sweet. That’s because starches break down into sugars. And grazing on any kind of food all day is bad for your oral health because it guarantees you’ll have food on your teeth more often than not.
You can’t stop eating, of course, but you can take steps to reduce the damage food does to your teeth. First, try to eat only at mealtimes. Second, avoid foods that contain lots of sugar or starch, especially sticky foods like gummy candy. Third, clean your teeth by rinsing your mouth out well with water after you eat something.
2. Drinking soda and other sweet beverages
Food isn’t the only dietary culprit that could be damaging your smile. The drinks you choose also have an impact on your oral health. Soda, fruit juice, sugary energy drinks, and syrupy coffee drinks are all just as bad for your teeth as sugary foods are.
What about diet soda? Actually, diet soda isn’t good for your mouth either. It doesn’t contain any sugar, but it is acidic, and that acid can still wear away at the enamel of your teeth. If you can’t live without your soda, rinse your mouth out with water after drinking it to ensure your teeth aren’t covered in acid afterwards.
3. Drinking alcohol
If you enjoy a glass of red wine now and then, you might want to think about how the habit is affecting your teeth. Alcohol can damage your tooth enamel, but that’s not all – it also dehydrates you, which dries out your mouth and makes it harder for your saliva glands to rinse away anything that’s on your teeth. As with other tooth-unfriendly beverages, if you’re going to drink alcohol, rinse your mouth out afterwards.
If you need another reason to stop smoking, here it is: smoking is terrible for your smile. It stains your teeth, and over time, it can cause gum disease, which could make your teeth fall out. Chewing tobacco isn’t much better, since it carries the same risks of gum disease.
5. Chewing your nails
Nail-chewing is a common nervous habit for kids and adults alike, and it can be hard to break. But if you’re a nail-biter and you care about your teeth, it’s important to make an effort to stop. Repeatedly chewing on anything hard has the potential to chip or crack your teeth, especially if they’re already damaged or your enamel is thin. You can kick the nail-biting habit by finding other things to do with your hands and wearing bad-tasting nail polish.
6. Using your teeth as tools
Much like nail-biting, using your teeth as tools can damage them. It might be faster to rip open a package or remove a bottle cap with your teeth than to get an actual tool to do the job, but this can crack your teeth and send you on an emergency visit to the dentist’s office. Play it safe and take an extra 30 seconds to find a pair of scissors instead.
7. Chewing on ice
Chewing ice can be downright addictive. Ice is crunchy, satisfyingly cold, and calorie-free, so it seems like a guilt-free indulgence. But like any other hard object, ice can crack your teeth. If you’ve already got damaged teeth or cavities, ice can also irritate your mouth and cause toothaches. Sure, some people get away with chewing ice without any ill effects – but why take that chance with your own teeth?
8. Grinding your teeth
You could be damaging your teeth without even realizing it. Many people clench their jaw or grind their teeth while asleep, and this unconscious habit can wear down enamel and make toothaches more likely. If anyone has told you that you grind your teeth at night, you can wear a mouth guard to prevent most of the damage.
9. Getting your tongue or lip pierced
You may appreciate the way a tongue or lip piercing looks, but your teeth don’t appreciate the way it feels. Having a piece of metal in your mouth ups your risk for chipping or cracking a tooth considerably. In addition, lip piercings can push your teeth out of alignment, while tongue piercings can cause painful scratches or sores on your gums. If you love piercings, consider getting one somewhere other than your mouth – your teeth will thank you.
10. Playing contact sports without a mouth guard
Contact sports – like football, rugby, and hockey – are downright dangerous without appropriate protective gear, and that includes a mouth guard. It’s all too easy for an unexpected collision to knock out teeth. Don’t just assume it won’t happen to you; no one is immune to injury. You wouldn’t skip wearing your helmet, so get a mouth guard and wear it every time you play sports, too.
11. Chewing pencils or other items habitually
Do you chew on things when you’re thinking? Pencils are an especially common item to chew. This mindless habit doesn’t just damage the ends of your writing tools – it’s also hard on your teeth. Unsurprisingly, gnawing on pencils or anything else makes your teeth more likely to break or crack. Find another way to fidget when you’re thinking, such as playing with a fidget cube.
12. Scrubbing your teeth too hard
Brushing your teeth is important, but you can have too much of a good thing. Brushing with too much force, or using a toothbrush that’s too hard and stiff, can wear away at your enamel and irritate your gums. Over time, over-brushing can cause receding gums and make you more vulnerable to cavities. As a general rule, it’s best to use a soft toothbrush and avoid brushing hard enough to bend the bristles much. You can still get your teeth nice and clean without exerting a lot of pressure on them.
13. Not brushing your teeth at all
When you’re especially tired or you’ve just returned from a night out, it can be tempting to just roll into bed without bothering to brush your teeth first. But it really is worth taking a couple of minutes to brush and floss before you hit the hay. If you don’t, sugars and acids from anything you ate or drank that night will sit in your mouth until morning, attacking the enamel on your teeth. You might not get any cavities from skipping your brushing routine once – but since it only takes a couple of minutes to clean your teeth, it’s worth taking the time to brush.
Your teeth are valuable – once they’re gone, you can’t get them back. Treat them accordingly! It doesn’t take too much effort to take good care of your teeth – regular cleanings and gentle treatment are all they need. On the other hand, if you engage in even two or three tooth-unfriendly habits on a regular basis, you could be dealing with tooth damage, cavities, and emergency dental work a lot sooner than you think. Be kind to your teeth and stay away from bad habits that could potentially damage them, and you’ll be able to enjoy good dental health for years to come.