By Donalee Moulton
Most Atlantic Canadians know what is good for their teeth and gums—regular brushing and flossing, for example. However, many of us may be unaware of common habits that are bad for our oral health.
“There are many things that can harm your teeth and mouth. Many of these will surprise you,” says Dr. Joy Carmichael, a family dentist with KV Dental in Rothesay, NB.
The following habits are ones you’ll want to break, or at least moderate, for healthier teeth, gums and mouth.
1/ Break the ice. Ice cubes keep drinks cold. They can also break the enamel on your teeth. Crunching on a cube may sound like fun and keep your mouth cool, but the temperature and the brittleness of ice cubes can cause teeth to fracture over time. Both ice and tooth enamel are crystals, and when two crystals come together, one breaks. Fortunately, help is at hand. Use of a compostable straw will keep the urge to crunch cubes at bay; or try going cold turkey and leave the ice in the tray.
2/ Chew on this. Gum is not great for your oral health, especially for adults who clench their teeth at night. “Chewing gum activates the same muscles you use to clench and grind your teeth,” notes Dr. Carmichael. “When you chew gum you’re simulating the habit and can actually end up clenching more at night.” If you need a treat, try herbal tea or a piece of fruit.
3/ A bone to pick. Sometimes nothing seems so satisfying as a toothpick at the end of the meal to dislodge those pesky bits of food. Unfortunately, toothpicks can break off in your mouth, get lodged in tissue, and create damage. “In some cases, the affected area has to be removed,” says Dr. Carmichael. The best option is dental floss.
4/ Nail this down. Nail biters are well aware their habit isn’t great for their hands. It also isn’t good for their oral health. Considered a nervous habit, nail biting can have adverse effects on your jaw. Pushing your jaw forward to nibble on the nail, places pressure on the jaw and can cause dysfunction. There are alternatives, of course, including keeping your fingers active and using a bitter-tasting polish.
5/ Caught off guard. Sports relieve stress, get your heart pumping, and keep you actively engaged. However, some sports really do require a mouthguard. You should use a properly fitting guard to protect your teeth, gums, and jaw, and to help reduce the incidence of concussion, stresses Dr. Carmichael. “You need a guard that has been made to fit your mouth. There is no one-size-fits-all.”
6/ Hard at it. Brushing your teeth is good for gums, enamel and cavity prevention. But brushing for two minutes twice a day, as recommended, does not mean giving it all you’ve got. Brushing too hard or with a hard-bristled toothbrush can irritate your gums and damage enamel. Stiff-bristled brushes and elbow grease are best saved for scrubbing the floor.
7/ Cough it up. Cough drops and liquid medications often have high levels of sugar. Plaque, the sticky film in our mouth that is filled with bacteria, loves this sugar. It helps to form the acid that eats away at tooth enamel. The acid in cough drops can also erode tooth enamel. As well, cough drops lower the pH level in your mouth, notes Dr. Carmichael.
8/ Tear into this. “Teeth are not tools,” cautions Dr. Carmichael. Using your incisors – or any other tooth – to open packages, tear off tape, or tackle any other task can be harmful to your mouth. Your teeth may crack or your jaw may get injured. There is also the danger you may inadvertently swallow something. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives. Scissors, for example.
9/ Grazing and sipping. Constantly snacking, sipping and indulging in a treat is hard on your oral health especially if the treats and drinks are sugary. Fruit juices, for example, are very high in naturally occurring sugar and can contribute to tooth decay. The acid in the drinks can also eat away at enamel. Well-balanced meals to keep you full, healthy snacks and good old tap water are better options.
10/ Chew on this. Often without realizing it, we ruminate, contemplate, and concentrate with a little something in our mouth such as pens, pencils and eye glasses. As a habit, this increases the chances that a tooth will chip, germs will enter our mouth, and something may be swallowed that was never intended for our stomach.
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