You get a lot of use out of your teeth. And if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll probably admit you subject them to a fair amount of abuse with a few bad habits.
That’s fine. You don’t have to swear off solid food to take better care of your pearly — or maybe not so pearly, these days — whites. But to reduce the risk of oral health issues that may eventually require interventions like a tooth removal or dental implants, you’ll want to limit the stress you put on your mouth.
Among other things, that means toning down or eliminating habits that can wreck your teeth over time, like these six.
1. Brushing Too Hard (Yes, Really)
Yes, you really can brush your teeth too hard. Over time, aggressive brushing — your dentist might call it “sawing” or “scrubbing” — can cause your gums to recede, exposing parts of your tooth that normally don’t see the light of day. These surfaces are weaker — they’re more vulnerable to enamel loss and decay and more sensitive to pain.
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association has a great overview of good brushing techniques. An electric toothbrush is best, but think “massage” rather than “scrub.”
2. Biting Your Nails
Nail-biting helps release nervous energy and focus the mind. It can also weaken the enamel and increase the risk of painful, unsightly chips. And over long periods of time, biting your nails can cause jaw dysfunction.
Consider swapping your teeth for a stress ball, and keep a pair of nail clippers close at hand.
3. Drinking Sugary Drinks
Let’s be honest: Diet soda tastes better anyway.
Fortunately, this isn’t the 1940s. It’s not as if reasonable alternatives to old-school sugary drinks don’t exist.
Just be aware of what constitutes a “sugary drink.” Everyone knows Coke and Sprite, and the like are laden with sugar, but did you know that orange juice and most other fruit juices have nearly as much sugar per serving? Or that lighter alcoholic beverages like beer and hard seltzer contain sugars and other carbs that can wear down your teeth over time?
The nutrition label is your friend. You might be surprised by what it tells you.
4. Consuming Highly Acidic Foods and Beverages
Sugar is so bad for your teeth because it promotes the growth of enamel-eating, gum-harming bacteria. Acid doesn’t cause as much active harm, but it’s nearly as bad over a long time.
Unfortunately, a lot of really tasty foods and beverages are acidic. Some are habit-forming in their own right — think coffee, wine, or your favorite energy drink. Citrus, too.
Of course, you don’t have to quit coffee or swear off lemon seasoning to protect your teeth. But you should brush after consuming highly acidic foods and try to reduce your consumption where possible. It’s the least you can do for your teeth.
5. Smoking and Chewing Tobacco
Newsflash: Tobacco is bad for your health.
Tooth and gum disease are farther down the list of tobacco-related ailments, but they should not be dismissed. Smoking yellows your teeth and can affect tooth alignment over time; chewing tobacco promotes gum inflammation and significantly raises your lifetime risk of oral cancer.
Talk to your doctor about quitting.
6. Grinding and Clenching Your Teeth
Many of us grind and clench our teeth. Some don’t even realize it because it’s second nature.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the stress from grinding and clenching can weaken your enamel, chip your teeth, and cause jaw problems over time. It can affect alignment and may contribute to gum recession too.
Consider adding a nightguard to your bedtime routine. It feels weird at first, but it’ll keep your teeth from knocking together when you’re unconscious.
Make Your Habits Healthier
Weaning yourself off these habits will take time, and progress won’t happen in a straight line.
But don’t underestimate yourself. You’re capable of great things. And if you’re able to put your oral health on better footing for the long haul, your teeth — and the rest of your body — will thank you when you avoid these six habits.
Featured Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash