If going to the dentist isn’t exactly your favorite annual appointment, you’re not alone. According to a 2018 survey from the American Dental Association (ADA), just 58 percent of Americans visit the dentist in an average year. However, skipping those check-ups is just one of the many ways you’re likely harming your teeth. With the help of dentists, we’ve rounded up all the surprising habits that could be causing your teeth irreparable harm.
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.
Though a squeeze of lemon might do wonders for your water, the fruit’s acidity can harm the protective layer of enamel on your teeth, according to the dentists at Watts Family Dental in Overland Park, Kansas. “A good rule of thumb when preparing a 32-ounce bottle of lemon water is to add only the equivalent of about half a lemon. That should be plenty of lemon juice for a single day,” the dentists advise.
When you brush immediately after consuming foods and beverages high in acidic properties, like orange juice and other citrus products, it can harm your teeth, according to the experts at Colgate. Eating acidic foods weakens your enamel and brushing weakened enamel can cause it to erode. To avoid this potential decay, wait at least 30 minutes for your enamel to settle before brushing your teeth.
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. Instead, 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.
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 Sharona Dayan, DDS, DMSc, a board certified periodontist and founder of Aurora Periodontal Care in Beverly Hills. 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, while behavioral modification for daytime mouth-breathing can help quell the problem during the day.
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,” and that includes toothpicks, according to Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, of Yazdani Family Dentistry in Ontario, Canada.
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.
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 can often not handle the heavy influx, resulting in major erosion of your enamel, according to the ADA. To combat this, the experts suggest chewing on sugar-free gum to encourage more saliva production in your mouth. And for more insight into those digestive troubles, This Is What Your Indigestion Is Trying to Tell You.
Your constant snacking is not only bad for your waistline, but it can also have a negative impact on your pearly whites, according to Caitlin Batchelor, DDS, of Caitlin Batchelor Dentistry in Harrisonburg, Virginia. “When you snack frequently, your teeth are constantly bathed in acid,” writes Batchelor. “And since you’re not likely to brush after every snack, your teeth will be at extra risk for cavities and decay.”
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, “certain types of starchy foods, like crackers and pretzels, for example, are more likely to leave sticky bits of food between your teeth.”
According to Matthew Messina, DDS, a dentist and dental professor at Ohio State University, regularly chewing on ice cubes can potentially lead to tooth fracture. “Tooth enamel is a crystal. Ice is a crystal. When you push two crystals against each other, one will break,” Messina told the ADA. This is especially the case when you have fillings, since they can be easily broken by hard substances like ice cubes.
To save your jaw and teeth, avoid engaging in this nervous habit, Ruchi Sahota, DDS, a dentist in Fremont, California, told the ADA. The constant pressure on your teeth and protruded jaw can have lasting and harmful effects on your mouth, like chipped teeth and jaw dysfunction. Look to other stress relievers, like rubber bands, to keep your hands busy and away from your mouth.
Sodas aren’t just loaded with sugar; they’re also filled with phosphoric and citric acids, which can lead to major enamel erosion, according to Montefiore Dental in the Bronx, New York. Instead of reaching for a can of soda, grab a glass of water, or, if you’re in the mood for something a bit more satisfying, try some milk—it provides the calcium and phosphorus needed to remineralize teeth and build up your enamel.
While red wine is known 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.
Coffee may perk you up in the morning, but the acids it contains can wreak havoc on 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 in Lincroft, New Jersey. “The physical act of chewing produces saliva, which neutralizes food acids to protect your teeth.” 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 be on your teeth.
We get it: Gummy vitamins taste better than traditional ones. However, your average gummy can have as much sugar as a piece of traditional candy, meaning they can stick between your teeth, causing bacteria in your mouth to proliferate. Plus, the citric acid in many fruit-flavored gummies can erode your enamel.
Sure, you may want a gleaming white smile, but overdoing it with whitening products can cause some serious harm to your mouth. “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.
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 in Portland, Oregon. So, the next time you’re browsing the aisle for cough drops, be sure to choose a low-sugar option to protect your teeth.
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 also damage tissue and impact your sense of taste.
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. So if you decide to forego the mouth guard, you risk the potential for tooth loss and gum damage.
If you wake up with a headache, jaw ache, or just feel as though you haven’t received the adequate amount of sleep, you might be grinding your teeth at night. In fact, according to Montefiore Dental, most people who do this don’t even realize it—so it’s important to assess your symptoms and see a professional. 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.
We don’t have to tell you that illicit drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and methamphetamines aren’t doing your body or brain any good. But did you know they can affect your teeth, gums, and jaw, too? That’s according to the Victoria State Government’s Better Health Channel, which notes that certain drugs can cause users to clench their jaw and grind their teeth. Not to mention, the dry mouth that often comes as a side effect of drug use can cause erosion and other damage.
According to Montefiore Dental, all tobacco products stain your teeth and lead to eventual gum disease. Of course, that’s only the beginning of the negative effects of smoking. It’s time to put this bad habit behind you, for your oral health and overall health, too. And for more medical advice straight from the experts, check out these 25 Things You’re Doing That Would Horrify Your Physician.
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