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- Teeth are important for health and for vanity, but there are lots of things that can damage them.
- From brushing too soon after a meal to chewing on ice – lots of everyday habits are damaging your teeth.
- We talked to experts on what you might be doing to hurt your teeth, and why it is bad for them.
Teeth go through a lot every day and we can often take our dental health for granted. Unfortunately, there are quite a few common habits that can slowly wreak havoc on your teeth.
INSIDER consulted with dental experts to identify the little things you might be doing every day that could be destroying your teeth.
Biting your nails is terrible for enamel
Biting your nails isn’t just bad for your manicure – it can be terrible for your teeth.
“When you bite your nails, the enamel on your teeth can crack and splinter. Your teeth can even shift over time,” dentist Dr. Meenal Patel told INSIDER.
In severe cases, biting your nails can even lead to jaw pain and headaches that are linked to jaw tension. Cutting the habit of chewing on your nails can be tough, but it’s worth it to safeguard your smile.
You take a gummy vitamin in the morning
Plenty of modern nutritional supplements and vitamins come in gummy form. They’re easy to take and come in tempting flavors, but these supplements might be wreaking havoc on your teeth.
“These supplements are one of the worst offenders for tooth and gum issues. No matter if they’re used by kids or adults, forgetting to brush right after leaves the sugary and gummy substance attached to the teeth, causing damage as the day goes by,” dentist Dr. Steven D. Spitz told INSIDER.
If you prefer to take your vitamins in gummy form, be sure to brush your teeth after chewing on these sugary supplements. It might also be work switching to a non-gummy chewable vitamin if swallowable supplements aren’t for you.
Brushing your teeth right after a meal is actually bad
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Your parents may have told you to brush your teeth after every meal, but that advice might actually be flawed. It turns out that scrubbing your smile right after eating or drinking might do more harm than good.
“Right after you eat or drink acidic foods, you have a period where the pH of your mouth is more acidic and the teeth are essentially ‘softer.’ If you brush your teeth right after, you are actually fracturing the enamel on your teeth,” chief resident at UCLA orthodontics Dr. Greg Asatrian told INSIDER.
Dentists recommend waiting at least 30 minutes after eating or drinking anything acidic (such as citrus fruit, coffee, or carbonated beverages) before brushing your teeth. This will give your saliva time to buffer and remineralize your enamel before the abrasive effects of brushing can wear it away.
Scrubbing your teeth too hard is counter-intuitive
Take a look at your toothbrush – are the bristles flattened and fanning out to the sides? If your toothbrush is becoming frayed or matted in less than three months, it may be an indication that you are brushing too hard.
“Brushing too aggressively, or using a toothbrush with bristles that are too hard, can cause both dental wears to the teeth and gum recession. Both of these conditions can potentially lead to tooth sensitivity,” pediatric dentist Dr. Megan Chin told INSIDER.
Teeth should be treated gently. Try holding your brush with just two fingers to keep yourself from inadvertently scrubbing too vigorously. The American Dental Association recommends using a soft-bristled brush and replacing it every three months.
Using your teeth as tools damages them
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Plenty of people use their teeth as a third hand or a pair of built-in scissors. But your teeth are not tools, and using them for anything other than chewing food can lead to serious damage.
“Putting excessive forces on your teeth can not only cause fractures of the teeth but places excessive force on the underlying bone. This can result in receding gums and fractured teeth,” cautioned Dr. Asatrian.
The convenience of using your teeth to rip open plastic packaging or hold small objects isn’t worth the potential harm to your smile. Take the extra minute to get a pair of scissors or make two trips to bring up your groceries. Your teeth will thank you.
Sipping on sparkling water does more damage than you think
Recently, carbonated water beverages have gained popularity due to the fact they are a far healthier alternative to sugary soda. Unfortunately, sparkling water can still be more damaging to your teeth than plain old still water.
Tooth enamel begins to demineralize or break down, at a pH of 5.5. Most carbonated beverages have pH levels below this critical level. Dr. Chin explained that swapping out all your still water for sparkling might lead to enamel loss.
“Repeated exposure of tooth enamel to highly acidic substances can lead to increased tooth erosion. Sipping on carbonated drinks throughout the day is not the best idea if you want to maintain the healthiest teeth,” she said.
You should also be conscious of what other ingredients may be in your sparkling beverage. Aside from added sugars, citrus-flavored carbonated water has a higher acidity than plain sparkling water.
Drinking coffee or wine can stain teeth
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Anything that can stain your clothes has the potential to stain your teeth. Coffee, soda, tea, and wine are all major culprits in tooth discoloration.
“Drinking tea, coffee, and dark juices will stain your teeth, along with condiments like balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce. While red wine has antioxidant benefits, the pigmented substances and tannins that exist in the beverage go above and beyond to stain your teeth,” dentist Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer told INSIDER.
Thinking about switching out your red wine for a paler variety? Sadly, white wine can erode enamel and contains erosive fruit acids that cause other staining substances to penetrate the teeth more deeply. Tea contains tannins, which can discolor teeth, and even herbal infusions can damage dental enamel.
Ice cubes are too strong to crunch on
It can be tempting to crunch down on the ice left in your glass after you finish a drink, but this is one little habit that could have a negative impact on your long-term dental health.
“Ice is an incredibly strong material. Chewing on it can cause small fracture lines to develop within your teeth. You may not notice it today or tomorrow, but if you chew ice frequently, your teeth will become weaker and may fracture one day,” warned Dr. Asatrian.
Tooth enamel is incredibly strong, but it’s not impervious to damage. Crunching down on other hard foods like potato chips, hard candy, pork crackling, or breath mints can also harm your teeth.
Adding lemon or vinegar can be too acidic
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Though there’s nothing wrong with adding the occasional squeeze of lemon to plain water or tea, constantly sipping on citrus-infused beverages or vinegar-based detox drinks can weaken your tooth enamel over time.
“Highly acidic foods, like citrus fruits, vinegar, or tomato sauce, can slowly erode tooth enamel. So can carbonated drinks, even they are sugar-free,” dentist Dr. Greg Grobmyer told INSIDER.
If you do enjoy an acidic beverage, rinse thoroughly with water afterward and don’t brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes to minimize the damage to your enamel.
Snacking constantly exposes your teeth to acid
It can be hard to resist the urge to snack, but having numerous small meals throughout the day can actually put you at an increased risk for cavities.
“As soon as you eat anything, the acid levels in your mouth spike below the demineralization level of pH 5.5. Over a period of time over the next 20 to 30 minutes, your saliva neutralizes this effect and repairs some of the damage,” explained Dr. Chin.
When you graze throughout the day, your teeth are constantly exposed to an acidic oral environment. This increases your risk for tooth decay or irreversible demineralization. Though you shouldn’t let yourself go hungry, eating larger meals instead of snacks might be good for your smile.
Smoking is bad for your overall health, including teeth
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Smoking is not only a threat to your overall health but can have a terrible impact on your teeth, mouth, and gums.
“The heat and smoke that is generated in the oral cavity have devastating effects on the soft tissues in the mouth, which includes your cheeks, tongue, and gums. Smoking creates a very unhealthy environment and can also stain your teeth,” said Dr. Sulitzer.
Smokers are more prone to dental decay and gum disease, not to mention oral cancer. Though using anti-tar mouthwash and specialized toothpaste might help prevent staining in the short-term, quitting smoking is the best way to protect your teeth and general health.
Storing your toothbrush in a drawer can be harmful
Even the way you store your toothbrush can have an effect on your dental health. Keeping your brush stashed in a closed drawer or container is the wrong way to go.
“The American Dental Association recommends storing your toothbrush in a manner which decreases bacterial growth: in an upright container and where it is exposed to the open air where it can dry freely. If you’re storing it in a closed container it can harbor more bacteria, which can be harmful to your teeth and gums,” advised Dr. Chin.
Invest in a toothbrush holder or stand that will allow you to keep your bathroom counter tidy and your brush clean and dry.
Using a mouthwash with alcohol is ill-advised
Mouthwash can help deliver decay-fighting fluoride to your teeth and keep your breath fresh between brushings. However, it’s important to choose the right kind.
“People commonly use mouthwash as a part of their oral-care routine. Alcohol-based mouthwashes actually tend to dehydrate the mouth. In turn, drier conditions are a breeding ground for bad bacteria,” dentist Dr. Chris Kammer told INSIDER.
Instead of opting for alcohol-based mouthwashes, you might want to consider one formulated without alcohol or with xylitol. This ingredient stimulates saliva production, keeping your mouth healthier even after you spit it out.
Using a whitening toothpaste or whitening strips can be harmful
Everybody wants their teeth to have that pearly white finish, but relying too heavily on drugstore whitening solutions can actually damage your teeth.
“Overuse, and abuse, of over-the-counter teeth whitening products without the professional oversight, causes over-saturation of the teeth and breakdown of the dentin under the enamel,” dentist and prosthodontist Dr. Jonathan B. Levine told INSIDER.
Over time, abrasive or harsh whitening products can wear away tooth enamel and actually expose the yellowish dentin beneath. Not only does this set your teeth up for further damage and sensitivity, but it defeats the purpose of applying whitening products in the first place.