Habits that harm your oral health
It’s common knowledge that smoking, teeth grinding, and sloppy dental hygiene can negatively impact the health of your mouth, but they’re not the only behaviours that can spell trouble for your teeth and gums. Do you have other habits prompting cavities, oral infections and costly dental repairs? Here are seven things that can ruin your teeth.
1. Using your teeth as tools
Do you tear open bags of potato chips, or twist off bottle caps with your teeth? Using your mouth in lieu of a pair of scissors or a bottle opener might seem like a convenient shortcut, but it could actually land you in the dentist’s chair. “You shouldn’t use your teeth to open bottles, or to rip open packages,” says Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association. “There’s the potential to fracture a tooth. If you’re using a back tooth, you could damage a filling or crown.” Tooth chips, cracks, and fractures can create openings for tooth decay to take hold. In serious cases, a broken tooth may have to be permanently removed, and replaced with a dental implant.
2. Tongue, lip or cheek piercings
Facial piercings might be trendy when you’re younger, but the health concerns that they spark are not. Swan says that stud or ring piercings can create complications such as infection, bleeding and swelling of the tongue, or nearby tissues. Individuals with oral jewelery must be extra careful to avoid the damage that biting a piercing can cause, and should discuss oral management with their dentist.
3. Playing sports without a mouthguard
It’s common to see professional athletes in football, hockey and boxing wearing mouthguards, but oral protection is also important for recreational athletes of all ages. “In any sport where you could potentially be hit in the face, a mouthguard is a good thing,” says Swan. Different styles of mouthguards are available, ranging from the cheapest option – ‘boil-and-bite’ mouthguards that you can make at home with DIY kits – to customized guards created by your dentist. This version is pricier, but offers an exact fit as well as comfort and protection. Not sure if you need one? Put your money where your mouth is – the cost of fixing damaged teeth will be considerably higher than the price of a mouthguard.
4. Chewing ice cubes
Crunching ice cubes can chip away at the enamel of your teeth, or cause a tooth to break. And if your mouth is home to several fillings, an icy snack can be even more perilous. “If a tooth has a filling, its strength is compromised to a degree. If you chomp down on ice, you could damage the tooth,” says Swan.
5. Sucking on throat lozenges
When a cold or sore throat strikes, the first line of defense is often a cough drop, but tossing back lozenges can set you up for tooth decay. Despite being considered medicinal, some cough drops are loaded with sugar. “If you’re continually sucking on lozenges, you’ll have a high level of sugar in your mouth,” says Swan. “Sugary foods contribute to tooth decay.” To spare your smile – and relieve uncomfortable cold symptoms – read the ingredient labels on lozenges to find a brand that’s low in sugar.
6. Bleaching your teeth despite irritation
Bleaching your teeth – either at home, or in the dentist’s office – is a safe way to achieve a bright, white smile, however, science has yet to figure out how much whitening is too much. It’s believed that excessive bleaching could cause tooth pitting and nerve damage, but additional research is needed to confirm these complications. In the meantime, Swan says that it’s important for users to note that even when bleaching instructions are followed, some irritation of gum tissue, and tooth sensitivity could occur. The key is to stop the bleaching process if these side effects don’t subside. To lower your risk of further complications, see your dentist for advice on how to proceed.
7. Brushing immediately after consuming acidic foods
“If you’re consuming food and drink that is acidic (such as orange juice), it can contribute to a softening of tooth structure,” says Swan. “If you immediately brush your teeth, the abrasion of the toothbrush on the softened enamel can cause some damage.” To avoid this risk, Swan recommends waiting about 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. This time frame gives the saliva in your mouth a chance to wash away lurking food debris and acids. Can’t wait 30 minutes? Chew sugarless gum. It will stimulate saliva production, and help freshen your breath until you can brush your teeth.