Teeth and gums don’t take care of themselves. If you want to maintain good oral health for the rest of your life, it’s essential to treat your mouth well. This means doing the obvious stuff like brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist.
But there are lots of other behaviors and factors that have a negative effect on the state of your mouth. Some are not so surprising, others are a little less obvious. But by putting an end to them, you are doing a good thing for your teeth, gums, and entire body. Because, as is becoming increasingly clear, oral health has a profound effect on overall health.
Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Habitual grinding or clenching of your teeth will wear down the enamel, which reduces the tooth’s ability to protect itself against harmful bacteria and plaque. You may even end up cracking or chipping your tooth — and trust us, dental emergencies are never fun!
Teeth grinding is also a big risk factor for developing TMJ pain, which has a spectrum of symptoms ranging from headaches to jaw and muscle pain to lockjaw.
This behavior, which often happens in your sleep, may be triggered by stress or anxiety. Reducing stress or practicing relaxation techniques may help. And Dr. Crain can craft a custom mouthguard that prevents you from grinding your teeth at night and allows your TMJ to heal.
Smoking (and Smokeless Tobacco)
You are surely aware of the many ways in which tobacco use harms your health — from cancer to lung disease to heart disease. But did you know that smoking and chewing tobacco are terrible for your teeth and gums specifically? Not only will it turn your teeth an unappealing yellow color and give you bad breath, tobacco use puts you at an increased risk for developing oral cancer and gum disease. And periodontal disease in smokers tends to be more difficult to treat.
Brushing Too Hard
We love people who are enthusiastic about their oral hygiene. That said, it is possible to overdo it. When you brush, be thorough but gentle. You may think that brushing with a firm hand will get rid off that nasty bacteria and plaque. Well, you may end up scrubbing away not only those, but your tooth enamel as well! And that will leave you vulnerable to tooth pain, cavities, and gum disease.
Check your toothbrush. If it says “medium,” “firm,” or anything other than “soft,” toss it. You should use only soft toothbrushes on your teeth (though the others are great for scrubbing grout).
Chewing on Stuff That Isn’t Food
Your teeth were designed for chewing, it’s true. But they were not made for gnawing on pencils, nails, ice, or other non-food things. Especially if this becomes a habit, you are putting yourself at risk for a chipped, cracked, or broken tooth. (Ouch!)
There is also the issue of bacteria. By chewing on objects that may or may not be clean, you can end up transferring nasty microbes from them to your mouth. Or your mouth to the object, which may then be picked up by someone else.
Using Teeth as Tools
It may be tempting to open that stubborn bag of potato chips with your teeth, but is it really worth the risk? Your teeth are not meant to fill in for scissors, pliers, or any other other tool. You may end up breaking or cracking your teeth, and transferring yucky bacteria.
Overindulging in Coffee and Tea
We know. Sometimes the only thing to motivate you to get up in the morning is the prospect of sipping that first cup of hot coffee or tea. But both of these beverages contain tannins, which will discolor your teeth. If you can’t or don’t want to give them up altogether, try to keep your habit to one or two cups per day. Also, herbal and green teas are less likely to stain teeth than coffee or black tea. If possible, brush right after you finish the cup, or rinse your mouth with water. This will help get rid of some of those tannins.
It’s not always easy to break bad habits. But being aware of them is a good first step. Try to do right by your teeth, and they will last you a long time — hopefully the rest of your life.