25 Habits That Cause Dental Problems, According to Dentists

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If you’ve ever found yourself phoning it in when it comes to your dental care, you’re not alone. According to the World Dental Federation, 3.9 billion people worldwide suffer from untreated tooth decay. In fact, according to a 2014 study from Delta Dental, 31 percent of adults polled admitted that […]

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If you’ve ever found yourself phoning it in when it comes to your dental care, you’re not alone. According to the World Dental Federation, 3.9 billion people worldwide suffer from untreated tooth decay. In fact, according to a 2014 study from Delta Dental, 31 percent of adults polled admitted that they didn’t even brush their teeth twice a day. However, it’s not just skipping visits to the dentist and forgetting to floss that could be causing serious damage to your oral health. With the help of experts, we’ve rounded up the seemingly minor mistakes you’re making with your teeth that could lead to major dental problems in the long run. And if you’ve got an appointment coming up, discover 7 Precautions You Must Take Before Going to the Dentist Amid Coronavirus.

young white woman biting nails in kitchen
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That nervous habit of biting your nails is doing more than leaving your hands looking ragged.

This is especially true if your nail breaks off in between your teeth because “the interdental gap is very narrow and stays there,” leaving a potentially permanent space between your teeth, explains dentist Henry Hackney, DMD, of Authority Dental.

If that piece of nail stays stuck between your teeth, “it makes it difficult to remove food residue during cleaning and accelerates the formation of cavities,” says Hackney. And for more behaviors to ditch, start with these 7 Bad Habits Experts Say Are Even Worse in the Age of Coronavirus.

young asian woman picking food out of teeth
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While it may seem perfectly reasonable to try to remove stuck pieces of food with whatever you’ve got handy, doing so with anything other than floss could lead to bigger issues in the long run.

“Patients try to pull out the leftovers of food with various objects that they have at hand. These include hair, plastic cutlery, foils, pieces of material,” says Hackney. Unfortunately, if these folks have preexisting damage to their dental enamel, “particles of these objects stay between the teeth,” causing further degradation. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

young asian woman eating sprinkled donut
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Think you can grab a bite before you head to the dentist? Think again.

While Hackney says that dentists have the tools necessary to clean your teeth even after you’ve just eaten, “it is nice if you have brushed your teeth before the visit or at least rinsed them. This makes it much faster and easier to see cavities,” he explains.

Soda Water
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While opting for carbonated water instead of sugary drinks may get a thumbs up from your general practitioner, the same can’t be said for your dentist. According to Adam Silevitch, DMD, a partner at Pediatric Dentists NYC, seltzer can cause serious problems for those who drink it regularly. “Even if it’s unflavored, it contains carbonic acid, which can wear away tooth enamel,” says Silevitch. While you may be unwilling to ditch that soda water entirely, drinking more non-carbonated water in addition to the fizzy stuff can help.

lemons
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Though a squeeze of lemon might do wonders for your water’s flavor, it could be doing serious damage to your teeth.

“The acidity in the fruits can cause enamel loss in the tooth,” explains Mansour Zakhor, DDS, of Los Angeles-based Zakhor Dental. And if you want your next medical appointment to go smoothly, check out these 40 Things You Should Never Lie to Your Doctor About After 40.

Woman looking in the mirror and brushing her teeth, ways you're damaging teeth
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If you’re not using toothpaste with fluoride in it when you brush, don’t be surprised if your dentist finds some damage at your next appointment.

“Patients not using enough fluoride in toothpastes [are] leaving their teeth more susceptible to fracture and cavities,” explains specialist periodontist and implant surgeon Sulaman Anwar, BDS, MFDS, a dental ambassador with the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh.

old man brushing teeth, things that would horrify your dentist
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You definitely can have too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to brushing your teeth. “This might sound counterintuitive, but brushing hard with a hard-bristled toothbrush can damage your teeth and harm your gums,” says Silevitch. To avoid irritating your gums and damaging your teeth, gently massage them with a soft- to medium-bristled toothbrush for two minutes, two or more times each day.

asian woman sleeping with her mouth open, ways you're damaging teeth
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If you’re snoring or breathing through your mouth at night, you’re doing more damage than just drooling on your pillowcase. “Mouth breathing is a daily habit that can wreak havoc on the teeth,” says board-certified periodontist Sharona Dayan, DDS, DMSc, founder of Aurora Periodontal Care. When you breathe through your mouth, she explains, you rapidly dry out your oral tissues, which can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. The solution? Getting tested for allergies or a deviated septum can help with the anatomical components, as well as pursuing behavioral modification for daytime mouth-breathing.

woman with toothpick in mouth, ways you're damaging teeth
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Toothpicks may seem like a helpful tool when it comes to removing those last bits of dinner from in between your teeth until you can get to flossing, but chewing on them may actually do some serious harm in the long run. “For the most part, chewing on most things that aren’t edible is not recommended,” including toothpicks, according to Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, of Yazdani Family Dentistry in Ontario, Canada.

woman chewing pencil, ways you're damaging teeth
Shutterstock/Lenar Nigmatullin

Using your teeth to rip open packages or hold things while you use your hands is extremely harmful to your chompers. “Biting pens, pencils … snapping off bottle caps, or ripping off clothing tags are bad habits that damage teeth as well,” says Yazdani. Want to get a handle on those absentminded behaviors? Check out these 15 Nervous Habits That Are Bad for Your Health, According to Experts.

heartburn or chest pain for a man clutching his chest, airplane facts
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When you suffer from acid reflux, your gastric acids travel up your esophagus to your mouth. Normally, your saliva is equipped to battle acids present in the foods that you consume, but when it comes to these gastric acids, your saliva often can’t handle a heavy influx, resulting in major erosion of your enamel, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). To combat this, experts suggest chewing on sugar-free gum to encourage more saliva production in your mouth.

man snacking at work dentist
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Your constant snacking is not only bad for your waistline—it can also have a negative impact on your pearly whites, according to Caitlin Batchelor, DDS, of Caitlin Batchelor Dentistry. “When you snack frequently, your teeth are constantly bathed in acid,” she writes. “And since you’re not likely to brush after every snack, your teeth will be at extra risk for cavities and decay.”

woman eating while working, office etiquette
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Starchy foods have a tendency to stick to the teeth longer than other types of foods. Batchelor says that not only do starchy foods upset the pH balance in your mouth, but “certain types of starchy foods, like crackers and pretzels, for example, are more likely to leave sticky bits of food between your teeth.”

chewing on ice cubes, bad for teeth
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While it may seem like an innocuous habit, crunching on ice cubes could cause serious dental problems down the line.

Eating ice “can not only cause enamel loss, but it can also break your tooth, break fillings, and cause your jaw to become sore,” says Zakhor, who notes that this habit can increase your dental sensitivity and may make you more susceptible to cavities, too.

Red Haired Man Drinking Soda, things that would horrify your dentist
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While soda is a frequent cause of weight gain, it can also cause serious damage to your teeth.

“The sugar and acidity in soda wreaks havoc on teeth, so when you consume these sugary drinks, it causes acidity and bacteria to build up in the mouth,” explains dentist Kevin Varley, DDS. If you do indulge from time to time, Varley recommends rinsing your mouth half an hour after you’ve finished your drink to prevent decay.

couple drinking red wine in the kitchen during the day time
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While red wine is notorious for staining teeth, any type of vino can damage your smile. Sipping on wine can erode your enamel and lead to discoloration, according to Montefiore Dental. However, if you find it hard to resist that glass of pinot noir at the end of a long day, just swish water around in your mouth after consuming it to limit your chances of further damage.

Man pouring from a coffee pot in the office, ways you're damaging teeth
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Coffee may perk you up in the morning, but the acids it contains can cause real damage to your tooth enamel. Fortunately for those of us who can’t survive without our morning cup of joe, there are a few ways to mitigate this. “For one, you can drink your coffee with a meal, or a healthy snack that is high in fiber,” according to the experts at Newman Springs Dental Care. And if you’re not feeling peckish first thing, you can always follow up that coffee with a glass of water to dilute some of the acids that would otherwise remain on your teeth.

Black man putting chewing gum in his mouth
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While chewing a piece of gum after a meal may freshen your breath, if your preferred brand isn’t sugar-free, you could be doing more harm than good for your teeth.

“Chewing gum stays in our mouths for a long time, and if it contains sugar there is a constant supply of sugar for the bacteria which cause tooth decay,” explains dental surgeon Karen Tindall, BDS, founder of Balanced Doctor. However, Tindall says that sugar-free gum is a great alternative that can actually reduce your chances of developing tooth decay.

woman using tooth whitening strip, ways you're damaging teeth
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Sure, you may want a gleaming white smile, but overdoing it with whitening products can cause serious oral health issues. “The hydrogen peroxide in the whitening products can damage the protein rich dentin tissue found underneath the enamel,” explains Beverly Hills dentist and Pronamel dental consultant Daniel Naysan, DDS. If you do choose to use these products, limit the application to once a week at most, or you might inadvertently do more harm than good.

Man Sucking on Cough Drop, bad for your teeth
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Though cough drops or throat lozenges are a go-to defense against worsening cold and allergy symptoms, they are often packed with sugar that can erode your enamel, according to the experts at East Portland Dentistry. So, the next time you’re browsing the aisle for cough drops, be sure to choose a low-sugar option to protect your teeth.

Woman with Lip Piercing Things That Would Horrify Your Dentist
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It turns out tongue, lip, and cheek piercings aren’t the best for your mouth, according to the Canadian Dental Association. That’s because piercings in the area can chip or fracture your teeth, or irritate your gums. They can even damage oral tissue and impact your sense of taste.

Football Player with Mouthguard Things That Would Horrify Your Dentist
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You’ll notice professional football players, hockey players, and boxers wear mouth guards—and, according to Pediatric Dental Specialists of Central Oklahoma, there’s good reason for that. “Playing sports without a mouth guard puts teeth at risk of taking a hard blow without any cushioning, which can cause them to crack or break altogether,” the specialists note.

Woman Grinding Teeth at Night Things That Would Horrify Your Dentist
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If you wake up with a headache, jaw ache, or just feel exhausted in the morning, you might be grinding your teeth at night.

“Lack of sleep can cause nervousness and grinding that can result in teeth wear down,” explains Zakhor. It may be worth investing in a mouth guard to ensure that you’re not doing any serious damage to your teeth, like altering their alignment or rubbing away the enamel.

Woman about to take her first bite of a ruby grapefruit
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While fruit may seem like a healthy alternative to candy or other sweet snacks, eating citrus fruit throughout the day could be setting you up for cavities down the line.

“Citrus fruits are high in acid and that acid can cause tooth decay,” explains Glenn Vo, DDS, owner of Denton Smiles. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a piece of nature’s candy from time to time. Vo says that apples and nectarines in particular “are not high in acid and are safe for your teeth.”

Vape and cartridge in hand
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It probably comes as little surprise that smoking isn’t a doctor-approved habit, but according to experts, vaping isn’t much better when it comes to your oral health.

“Unfortunately, there is still nicotine in the vapor and this nicotine can lead to early destruction of gum tissue,” explains Vo. However, it isn’t just nicotine-based vapes that could be damaging your teeth. If you’re using a flavored non-nicotine vape solution, “[its] sweet aftertaste is the result of sugars, and that leads to tooth decay,” he adds.

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