We all have bad habits. Some cause more damage than others. The problem with habits is that we’re not always aware that we’re doing them. Other times, our fixations are just tough to quit. What we might not realize, however, is that some of these compulsions may be causing damage to our teeth. The team at Monroe Family Dentistry created this list of common habits to avoid for healthy teeth and gums.
Chewing on Ice
Ice is just water in solid form, it can’t do much harm, right? Not when your teeth are concerned. Chewing on hard ice cubes can chip and even crack teeth. Both ice and tooth enamel are crystals. When two crystals crush against one another, one of them will break. Most often it is the ice, however, it’s not rare for a tooth or filling to break. Think about how long it takes your blender to crush ice!
How to break the habit: Reach for a piece of sugarless gum next time you feel the urge to munch on some ice. Or, more simply, drink your beverages without ice to avoid the temptation in the first place.
Thumb sucking is a perfectly normal reflex and can help induce sleep and provide comfort when a baby feels anxious. While perfectly normal for infants, long term thumb sucking can damage teeth. If the habit continues past the age of five or six, the pressure from the sucking can change the skeletal structure of the mouth and teeth, affecting the alignment of secondary teeth. The ideal age to discourage thumb sucking is around four years old.
How to break the habit: Make the process fun so your child is more engaged. Create a rewards-based system with a chart and offer praise and encouragement when they refrain from sucking.
Vigorous Tooth Brushing
Of course twice daily brushing is a good habit we like to see in our patients, however brushing too overzealously can damage your teeth and gums. Regular hard brushing can wear down enamel and gums, cause cold sensitivity in teeth, and even cause cavities in some situations.
How to break the habit: The first step is to swap out your hard-bristled toothbrush for a soft-bristled one. Once you have the right toothbrush, focus on gently massaging your teeth rather than scrubbing.
Aside from the bleeding and damage to your fingernails, habitual nail biting can cause a number on your teeth as well. Biting down on your nails in the wrong way can chip or break your teeth, or it can cause the enamel to splinter off. Further, constant pressure can cause jaw dysfunction and impactions.
How to break the habit: Try using bitter-tasting nail polish or snap a rubber band worn around the wrist as negative reinforcement. Alternatively, set small, achievable goals and tell others that you’re working on breaking the habit.
Chewing on Pencils
Similar to nail biting, pencil chewing can put a lot of pressure on your jaw and cause tooth damage. We often fall into this habit when we’re concentrating and are therefore often unaware of the force with which we are biting down on a pencil, or other objects like a pen or eyeglasses. Chomping can crack or chip teeth, cause jaw damage, and irritate the soft tissue inside the teeth.
How to break the habit: Chew on sugarless gum, or try the rubber band trick suggested for nail biting.
Smoking or Chewing Tobacco
Cigarettes and tobacco use will stain teeth, cause bad breath, and result in periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth decay and loss. Serious periodontal disease can also affect the rest of your body and immune system. Using chewing tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer.
How to break the habit: Smoking and tobacco use are notoriously difficult habits to quit. Start out by talking with your health care providers, including your dentist, and come up with a plan to quit together.
Generally, when we snack mindlessly, we’re not reaching for healthy foods. Rather, we’re satisfying salt and sugar cravings, which often lead us to eat candy, sweets, or chips. Every time we eat, the bacteria in our mouths feed on the leftover food in our teeth, producing an acid that can cause cavities.
How to break the habit: Try to eat balanced meals 3-5 times per day. When you do feel like a snack, reach for crunchy fruits and veggies like apples, celery, and carrots. Crunchy fruits and veggies are actually great for your teeth, as they help clean them in between meals and contain a number of vitamins that are beneficial for oral health.