7 bad habits you should stop right now to save your teeth, according to dentists




a close up of a woman: Biting your nails can damage your teeth by causing chips or cracks. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images


© JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Biting your nails can damage your teeth by causing chips or cracks. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

  • Bad habits like chewing ice, grinding your teeth, and biting your nails can chip or crack teeth.
  • Not using a straw or brushing too hard can also wear down your teeth’ enamel. 
  • Talk with your dentist about any habits you think may be harming your teeth and how to fix them.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
  •  

Practicing good oral hygiene means more than just preventing cavities and brushing your teeth twice a day. It’s also about protecting your enamel, caring for your gums, and reducing bacterial build-up. Here are seven bad habits that could be damaging your teeth and how to fix them. 

1. Chewing ice

Chewing ice can cause your teeth to crack and chip. 

 

The damage is irreversible and depending on the severity of the crack, it may require a composite filling, crown, root canal, or losing the tooth completely, says Michaela Tozzi, DMD, a dentist with her own practice in Henderson, Nevada.

“I’ve had to pull a patient’s otherwise healthy tooth because he was chewing ice and cracked his tooth completely in half,” Tozzi says. 

Many people chew ice for the feeling of crunching, Tozzi says, but it can be a harmful habit. Instead of chewing ice, try: 

  • Drinking with a straw to resist the temptation to chew ice
  • Snacking on crunchy foods, like apples, carrot sticks, or popcorn
  • Chewing sugar-free gum to replace the oral fixation of chewing ice

2. Brushing too hard

Brushing your teeth is one of the most important ways to keep your mouth healthy, but brushing too aggressively can cause damage to your teeth and gums, Tozzi says. 

Hard brushing can wear away at the protective layer on your teeth called enamel, which can lead to increased sensitivity and pain.

Brushing too hard can also cause your gums to recede, or be pushed back away from the teeth. This exposes the roots of the teeth, which can also cause sensitivity and increase your risk of infection

There is no way to restore lost enamel or receded gums, Tozzi says, though veneers can help by protecting the surface of your teeth. 

Medical term: Veneers are made of either ceramic or resin and are placed over the teeth to improve their appearance and protect teeth from damage. Your dentist can determine if you need one.  

Tozzi recommends these tips to decrease harm from brushing too hard: 

3. Grinding your teeth 

Many people grind their teeth while sleeping and don’t realize they’re doing it, says Alice Boghosian, DDS, a dentist based in Park Ridge, Illinois, and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. 

Grinding your teeth can wear them down and increase your risk of cavities and fractures. Signs you may be grinding your teeth at night include:

  • Waking up with a sore jaw or dull headache
  • Noticing you are clenching your jaw during the day
  • Damage on the inside of your cheeks, which may indicate you are biting down in your sleep

To decrease damage, wear a night guard while sleeping, Boghosian says. This is a device that fits over your teeth on one side of your jaw and provides a protective barrier between your teeth. Talk with your dentist about getting fitted for one.

 

Grinding teeth is also associated with stress and sometimes exacerbated by intense workouts like weight lifting that may cause you to clench your jaw. 

To stop grinding your teeth, Boghosian recommends:

  • Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or taking a warm bath before bed
  • Applying a warm washcloth to your face to loosen the jaw and keep muscles from clenching
  • Massaging your jaw to loosen up muscles

4. Biting your nails

Nail-biting can chip and fracture teeth, Tozzi says. These fractures can be fixed with composite bonding, which involves placing resin in the fractures to repair them. However, if the habit continues, the composite bonding can break and chip, too. 

 

Manicures may help reduce the urge to gnaw on nails, Tozzi says. Chewing sugar-free gum or mints can also help with the oral fixation of needing to chew on something.  

5. Drinking without a straw 

Drinking some beverages without a straw can cause damage to your teeth, Boghosian says. Sugary drinks like soda, lemonade, or sports drinks with added sugar can be especially harmful to teeth, Boghosian says. Sugar in the drinks feeds the bacteria responsible for cavities.

Other beverages that can harm teeth include:

  • Highly carbonated or acidic beverages like orange juice or lemon water. High levels of acid eat away at tooth enamel, increasing your risk of cavities
  • Wine and coffee can stain your teeth, making them appear yellow or brown 

Using a straw can decrease the harm caused by consuming these beverages because it redirects the fluid to the back of the mouth and away from teeth, Tozzi says. 

You can even keep a reusable straw with you so you always have one available. Swishing with water after consuming these beverages can also help rinse away sugar and acid.

6. Using your teeth as tools

Using your teeth to open a bag of potato chips or remove the lid of a pen can also damage your teeth by chipping or breaking them. 

“Your teeth are meant to chew your food so you have proper digestion,” Boghosian says. “Teeth are not tools.”

Use scissors if you need to open a package, Tozzi says. If you don’t have scissors available you can use your keys or nail clippers. 

7. Smoking 

Smoking is not only harmful to your overall health but also your teeth, Boghosian says. People who smoke are more likely to develop bacterial plaque, which causes gum disease. Smoking also reduces blood flow to the gums, which prohibits healing in the mouth. 

What the research says: A 2019 review of studies examining the link between tobacco use and oral cancer found tobacco is associated with the development of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), which accounts for more than 90% of oral cancers. 

Aside from an increased risk of disease, smoking can also cause bad breath and stain your teeth, Tozzi says. 

Talk with your doctor about how to quit smoking, as there are a variety of treatment options like Chantix or nicotine patches.  Other resources include:

Insider’s takeaway 

Keeping your teeth healthy is vital to your overall health. Some habits like chewing ice, biting your nails, or grinding your teeth can cause tooth fractures and increase your risk of gum disease. Talk with your dentist about how to stop bad habits that can damage your teeth. 

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