12 Bad Habits That Damage Your Teeth

12 Bad Habits That Damage Your Teeth

You may think that you’re doing all you can to maintain good oral health, but some habits are detrimental to your efforts. Like most bad habits, they tend to be performed “on automatic” without you even being aware of them. The ability to identify such behaviors is the first step in stopping them and preventing damage to your teeth. We’ll take a look at 12 of the most common — and provide some resources to help you address the last two, should one (or both) apply to your situation.

1. Brushing too Hard

You want to make sure you’re doing a good job of brushing your teeth to remove food particles and bacteria while stimulating your gums. But doing so too vigorously can cut and irritate your gums. As Golden State Dentistry points out, this causes gums to recede, erodes tooth enamel and leads to tooth sensitivity. To prevent brushing too hard, choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and replace it every three to four months, or when bristles show signs of wear. Brush gently in wide strokes.

2. Chewing Ice

Some people can’t resist chomping down on ice cubes in their drink. However, the rigidity and cold temperature of ice can cause teeth to fracture, as well as damage fillings and other dental restorations. Fight the temptation by using a straw, or forgoing ice. If drinking through a straw doesn’t fit your image — or you just object to straws — and you don’t like room-temperature beverages that should be served cold — be aware of your bad habit’s trigger point, and make the conscious decision to not chew.

3. Biting Down on Hard Candy and Hard Food

Closely related to chewing ice, biting down on hard candy and food can damage teeth in several ways — including causing chips, cracks, loosening or knocking out fillings, or cracking a crown or dental bridge. All are either painful, create conditions for infection-causing bacteria to enter, unaesthetic (such as a chipped front tooth), and certainly expensive to repair or restore! Take some time to consider why you’ve established this habit. Are you impatient or have a limited amount of time to eat? Is it a way to deal with anxiety or stress? Once you become aware of why you do it, you can modify your behavior and — depending upon the reason — perhaps find a more constructive way to handle stress.

4. Biting Your Nails

Speaking of stress, this nervous habit can actually chip teeth and impact the jaw, as well as expose your mouth to the bacteria under your nails. To reduce nail biting, paint your nails with bitter nail polish or practice stress management techniques (e.g. medication and exercise). Because a chronic nail-biting habit is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may need to consult a mental health professional to break the cycle if you are unable to bring it under control by yourself.

5. Using Your Teeth as Tools

Your teeth are for biting and chewing food — not for use as an impromptu bottle opener, nutcracker, pair of scissors, etc. These actions can crack or chip teeth (as well as crowns and dental bridges), dislodge fillings and even injure your jaw. Have the appropriate tools readily within reach when needed. And if you’re a guy who wants to impress his friends by using your teeth as a field bottle opener, ask yourself if it’s worth the pain, inconvenience and expense of an emergency dental visit — and an additional appointment or two to repair the damage.

6. Clenching Your Jaws/Grinding Your Teeth (Bruxism)

This bad habit may or may not be under your control. According to The American Academy of Oral Medicine, “Clenching or grinding while awake is especially common during periods of concentration, anger, or stress, and often occurs without a person being aware of it. Once a person is made aware of the habit, it can potentially be stopped or reduced by behavior modification.

“Bruxism during sleep is very different from bruxism while awake. Sleep bruxism is not under a person’s conscious control and usually occurs throughout the night … as a person goes from a deeper stage of sleep to a lighter stage of sleep. This pattern may be repeated many times during the night. Extreme forces can be generated by the jaws during clenching or grinding during sleep which can result in overuse of the jaw muscles –resulting in morning jaw pain or fatigue and jaw dysfunction. Sleep bruxism is not effectively treated by behavior modification or awareness and requires a different therapeutic approach. It also may be associated with a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea.”

Our blog post — “What You Need to Know About Bruxism” — covers this topic in greater detail.

7. Using Toothpicks

Toothpick use isn’t as common as it once was, but many people still utilize them to remove food stuck between teeth, or as a sort of adult pacifier to chew on for prolonged periods. According to Colgate, “You might think you’re doing the right thing by picking food debris out of your teeth after a meal, but poking around in your mouth with toothpicks or other non-dental implements can result in damaged, infected gums … Instead, floss or use an ADA-approved dental cleaning tool to remove food stuck between your teeth.”

As for chewing toothpicks, they’re made of wood, which can splinter and cut your gums. Besides, having a toothpick dangling from your lips doesn’t create a good look, and could cause others to form a negative impression of you.

8. Drinking Soda

Soft drinks are a leading cause of tooth decay. The acids and acidic sugar ingredients in them can soften and erode tooth enamel, contributing to cavities. When you consume sugary soft drinks, the sugar coats the teeth and feeds the bacteria that live in your mouth. This results in acid production, which can damage tooth enamel. However, sugar-free drinks aren’t safe, either. Even if a soda doesn’t have sugar, it can contain acidic ingredients that damage enamel.

Switch to plain water (preferably fluoridated), milk or green or black tea. These can help to strengthen your enamel and protect your teeth from mouth bacteria. It may take some getting used to, but giving up soda will ultimately provide numerous other health benefits —such as lessening your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

9. Frequent Snacking — Especially on Sugary Treats

Truth be told, frequent snacking is encouraged by TV ads and our culture in general. Snack foods are readily available almost everywhere, and it’s often hard to resist temptation. However, eating throughout the day (and worse yet, the evening) sets up the perfect environment in your mouth for cavities. You may brush after every meal, but not so much if you enjoy an afternoon doughnut or bag of chips.

Instead, focus on eating balanced, protein-rich meals that will keep you feeling full. Take the advice of old-school dentists and avoid between-meal snacks. Your overall health will be better for it, as well!

10. Habitually Eating Gummy Candy

Sometimes, we never outgrow the favorite treats of our childhood. If gummy candy is your go-to delight, be aware that it sticks to your teeth for hours and starts in on creating the conditions that are ideal for tooth decay. In fact, it’s one of the worst offenders for damaging teeth! Even if you drink water throughout the day, its sticky consistency stays put, constantly growing bacteria. Limit your candy or sweet consumption to a certain time of day, and brush soon afterward.

11. Tobacco Use

It’s common knowledge that smoking — as well as any type of tobacco use — has a devastating effect on health. According to a 2020 Surgeon General’s report, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Its effect on oral health includes a greater susceptibility to periodontal (gum) disease and oral cancer. It also stains teeth, although this is the least significant negative impact.

Although we know that quitting is hard, we encourage you to find a program or method that works for you. A good place to start is the American Cancer Society, which provides online links to resources to help you throughout the process. Our blog post — “How Smoking Affects Your Oral Health” — provides more information about the detrimental effects of smoking, and how smokers can practice good oral hygiene.

12. Heavy Alcohol Use

Like tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption leads to numerous health issues — including liver disease. Where oral health is concerned, alcohol dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from washing away bacteria — which causes bad breath and puts your teeth at greater risk of developing cavities. Moreover, alcohol is acidic, which wears away tooth enamel. Also like tobacco use, those who consume alcohol daily may not be able to reduce their intake or stop drinking on their own.

If you recognize the need for help, there are resources available. One place to start is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations.

The Take-Home Message

There are many bad habits that can damage your teeth. Some are relatively easy to stop once you become aware of what you’re doing — such as brushing too hard — while others require changes in eating habits, diet or better ways of coping with stress and anxiety. Damage to teeth from tobacco and habitual alcohol use are part of a much greater issue that needs to be addressed with the help and support of healthcare professionals and organizations specializing in substance use recovery. As we always say, oral health is part of your overall health. Whether small or great, any steps you take to prevent damaging your teeth will lead to a happier, healthier life!

At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.

Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs.

Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon!


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