How to Break Bad Dental Habits
Do you have bad dental habits? Most of us do things that aren’t great for our teeth from time to time. We don’t always remember to brush for the proper amount of time and we might skip flossing before bed if we’re really tired. However, a rare departure from a healthy brushing and flossing routine isn’t likely to give you cavities or gum disease. Let’s assume for now that you usually:
- Brush your teeth correctly at least twice a day using a soft bristled toothbrush and non-abrasive toothpaste
- Floss properly at least once a day to clean your gum line and prevent tartar buildup
- Scrape or brush your tongue to remove bacteria
- Use a dentist-approved mouthwash to keep bacteria at bay
- See your dentist on a regular schedule for checkups and prophylactic cleaning
You’re already well on your way to having ideal dental hygiene. But there are still many other things you might be doing that could put your teeth in harm’s way. Here are some of the most common bad dental habits along with tips for how to break them.
Watch What, When and How You Eat
- What you eat and drink every day has a big impact on both the looks and the function of your teeth over time. Staining is a common result of frequent consumption of things like coffee, red wine, tea, dark sodas and fruit juices. Discoloration accumulates on your enamel over time and gets worse the more you expose your teeth to staining substances. This means just cutting back can help. Try to substitute water for one or two of these other beverages every day. This will be better for your health and for the appearance of your teeth.
- Sugary and starchy drinks and snacks taste wonderful, but they aren’t just a favorite for humans. Oral bacteria love junk food and soft drinks, too! They have a feeding frenzy on the high-carb residue left on your teeth by chips, candy, soda or donuts that you eat throughout the day. Having desert with dinner and brushing your teeth afterward is much better for your mouth than eating sugars and starches throughout the day at work. So, save your treats for times when you know you will be cleaning your mouth out soon. Choose high fiber fruits and vegetables, nuts or low fat cheese sticks to get you through the day.
- Fruit juices, alcohol and carbonated beverages aren’t enamel-friendly. They may cause erosion of your teeth if you tend to sip these drinks throughout the day. The longer acid remains in contact with your teeth, the more damage it can do. Again, substituting water is great. Or, you can try drinking through a straw so you get to enjoy the flavor of your beverage without swishing it around your mouth and letting it wash against your teeth.
There’s something deeply satisfying about crunchy foods. Substituting ice for foods that have calories may seem like an innocent way to up your fluid intake while letting you enjoy the mouth-feel of a crunchy treat. Unfortunately, constant chewing of ice puts way too much stress on your teeth. Crushed ice is a little better for you than hard cubes of ice. But you should limit this bad dental habit as much as possible. Try drinking your water and other beverages chilled instead of “on the rocks” for a month or so to help you get out of the habit of chewing ice.
Grinding Your Teeth (Bruxism)
It’s not fair that one of the worst dental habits is something you can do in your sleep. However, tooth grinding and jaw clenching (leading causes of tooth wear and TMJ pain) are most likely to occur at night. This is a habit your dentist may help you diagnose. Fortunately, treatment to break this habit is usually simple. You’ll need to wear a night guard or bite splint to prevent nocturnal bruxism. Get one that’s custom molded to your mouth so it’s comfortable. That way, it will be easier to get in the habit of wearing it every night.
This habit can actually be good for your teeth (if you choose sugarless gum). It prompts your saliva glands to work overtime and help keep your mouth clean. However, constant gum use can be a problem if you have a tendency toward jaw pain. If you have a history of TMJ from muscle spasms or inflammation in your jaw joint, you should probably stop chewing gum. Instead, find other ways to release nervous energy like walking, meditating or doing Sudoku puzzles.
This is one of the most damaging of all the bad dental habits. Smoking and smokeless tobacco use:
- Stains your teeth
- Dries out your mouth, promoting bacterial growth and the development of cavities
- Makes you four times as likely as non-smokers to get periodontitis (gum disease leading to tooth loss)
- Greatly increases your chances of oral cancer
When it comes to breaking this habit, the best advice is to do whatever it takes. This may mean stopping cold turkey, getting smoking cessation counseling, undergoing hypnosis, joining a support group, using nicotine gum or patches, etc. Don’t stop trying!
Sharing toothbrushes, drinking glasses and utensils may seem innocuous – especially if you only share with close friends and family members. However, Streptococcus mutans and other types of oral bacteria most strongly linked to cavities are spread by this kind of contact. Children’s teeth are particularly vulnerable to damage from these microbes. It’s best not to risk spreading these bugs around. If your mouth isn’t colonized with these bacteria, count yourself lucky and don’t tempt fate!
Leaving Teeth Unprotected
Mouth guards are essential if you are involved in a contact sport like football or kickboxing. But there are also plenty of athletic activities that don’t require a mouth guard even though it’s still a good idea to wear one. If there’s any chance that you’ll catch a ball, an elbow or anything else in the face (or that you’ll fall and hit your teeth on anything), it’s better to be safe than sorry. Make sure your mouth guard is properly fitted so you can wear it comfortably. Try to breathe through your nose during sports activities so your jaw can remain closed. This minimizes the risk of chipping your teeth or biting your tongue because of a sudden impact.