By Maridel Reyes
You brush. You floss. You go to the dentist regularly. But many common habits may take a toll on your teeth and gums—without you knowing.
Protect your pearly whites by avoiding these seemingly innocuous everyday moves:
Brushing too hard. “Brushing too long, too hard and with too stiff of a toothbrush is harmful,” says Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, Professor and Chair at New York University College of Dentistry. Eventually, you’ll wear down the enamel—which can never be repaired or regenerated once it’s damaged.1,2 Buy a toothbrush with soft or medium bristles, and instead of scrubbing, gently push the toothbrush up to your gumline and vibrate it back and forth for two minutes.1
Doing the clench and grind. You might be doing it unconsciously as you’re reading this—it’s an all-too-common stress response.2 Or, you may be one of the estimated 1 in 10 people who clench their jaws or grind their teeth in their sleep.1 “That’s a real issue for people over time,” Wolff says. “You can wear down the teeth aggressively and cause pain in the muscles we chew with.” Your dentist is on the lookout for the signs of this kind of damage and can offer different strategies, including wearing a mouth guard to bed.1
Using a toothpick. Wolff cautions against using wooden toothpicks: “We see people grinding circles on the sides of their teeth because of hard toothpicks.” Instead, floss or use soft toothpicks made out of flexible balsa wood and work them between teeth.1
Drinking acidic beverages. Fruit juices, regular and diet sodas and sports drinks are acidic and may dissolve teeth, says Wolff.2 Even worse, if you brush your teeth immediately after eating or drinking something acidic, you may rub away the softened enamel.2 Use a straw to minimize drink-to-tooth contact and gargle with water after drinking.1 And wait a bit to brush your teeth—calcium-rich saliva will re-mineralize your chompers and reduce damage.1
Using the wrong toothpaste. Wait, there is a such a thing as “wrong” toothpaste? Absolutely, says Wolff. Some on the market are abrasive and can wear down enamel.3,1 Wolff recommends buying toothpaste that contains fluoride and has the American Dental Association seal of approval.
O.D.ing on whitening strips. “We see lots of people who over-whiten,” he says. “It looks like their teeth are blue or gray. That means they stripped the color from teeth with bleaching. And you can’t ever make it go back to normal after that.” Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter when you whiten at home and don’t try to tack on more time or extra bleach days.1 “No one should be bleaching continuously,” he adds.4
Chewing on it. “Teeth are not tools,” Wolff says. “You shouldn’t open beer bottles or bags with them.” In the same vein, chewing on a pen or on ice can cause small cracks in your teeth. And in extreme cases, you might break your teeth and cause permanent damage.1,2
1 Interview: Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD. 07/14
2 WebMD, Tooth Enamel Erosion and Restoration http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/tooth-enamel-erosion-restoration
3 The National Center for Biotechnology Information http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3812787/
4 American Dental Association. 11/10 http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/About%20the%20ADA/Files/ada_house_of_delegates_whitening_report.ashx
This material is intended for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor.