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Breaking bad habits

How resisting peer pressure improves your dental health

You've heard it all before. Peer pressure is bad. If your friend jumps off a bridge...

In reality, it's not like you see on TV: a group of friends forcing someone to do something crazy, or immoral, or both. It is usually much subtler than that.

Peer pressure is just about doing what everyone else is doing. Everyone is going out for sundaes, so you join them, even though you just had a candy bar. You meet for a game of pick-up basketball, but you forgot your mouth guard, and play anyway. Usually it's no big deal, but over time, bad habits have a way of snowballing and causing problems later.

Take something as simple as dental health. By dropping good habits, or adopting bad ones, you put yourself at risk for serious dental problems. And young adults are particularly susceptible.

Bad habits can develop quickly

In Australia, a study that showed that young adults (18-24 years old) have more tooth decay compared to 12-year olds.1 They suspect that the many life changes young adults experience causes them to ditch good habits for bad ones. This can include things like grabbing something out of a vending machine vs. cooking a healthy meal, or skipping dental care because you just want to go to bed. The type of things you might do because it's easier, faster, or because you're teased into doing it.

These choices may seem minor, but they increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease, plus a number of nasty side effects like bad breath and mouth sores.

So let's look at some of the more common choices young adults may make, and explain why they are bad for your dental health:

Consuming junk foods and drinks

Sugary, acidic, starchy, and caffeinated products are bad for your teeth. Some dry out your mouth, which creates perfect conditions for tooth decay and bad breath. Some of these foods also eat away at tooth enamel, causing cavities. Others feed the bacteria that grow in your mouth, producing plaque and gum disease.

Good foods for teeth include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheese, milk, and protein. The best drink? Plain old tap water. It has fluoride and no sugars, sweeteners, or chemicals.

Smoking and teeth

Besides the major health hazards you already know about (cancer, emphysema, etc.), tobacco stains your teeth. It also creates horrendous breath that lasts long after you've taken your last drag or had your last chew. Tobacco use also increases the buildup of plaque, which leads to cavities.

Using teeth whiteners

Having a sparkling white smile can be a nice confidence boost, but you can take it too far. Tooth whiteners contain abrasives and powerful chemicals that can cause pain and sensitivity and damage teeth and gums. Get the scoop on teeth whitening here.

Not protecting your mouth during sports

You don't have to be a rugby player to get knocked in the teeth. Wearing protective gear can save you from painful and costly accidents. Talk to your dentist about custom mouth guards, which provide the best tooth protection. And remember, accidents can happen in practice, just as often as in a game. Avoid permanent damage. Would you rather be cool and toothless, or smart and able to eat your meals?

By the way, sports drinks are often acidic or full of sugar and caffeine, which are all bad for your teeth.

Using alcohol or drugs

No lecture. Just know that both alcohol and drugs can erode tooth enamel and harm your gums. Plus they can lead to some reckless behavior...which can lead to further damage.

Piercings and teeth

Piercings are now more common among young adults and may appear harmless, but they can affect your dental health. Lip piercings can irritate gums and cause sores due to rubbing. The barbells used in tongue piercings can chip and break teeth. Be sure to remove any piercings before you sleep, because they can fall out and cause you to choke.

This is how little things can sneak up on you. By simply adjusting your habits, you can help avoid potentially painful and expensive dental problems. Do the simple things you learned as a kid and you can keep your smile gleaming for a lifetime.

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