7 harmful habits and how to break them

All it takes is one bad habit to undo years of good oral health behaviors — like brushing twice a day and flossing regularly. Fortunately, it’s never too late to break a habit that’s bad for your teeth. If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you, here’s how to stop them and keep your smile healthy.  

1. Chewing and biting something other than food

It’s no surprise that these habits can crack or chip your teeth or damage a filling:

• Biting your nails

• Crunching ice

• Holding pins in your mouth

• Chewing on writing instruments

• Using your teeth to open packages 

These behaviors can also wear down tooth enamel and irritate soft tissues inside your teeth — causing regular toothaches.

Try this:

• Hold something in your hands — like a stress ball — to keep from biting your nails.

• Drink beverages chilled without ice or use a straw to avoid chomping on ice.

• Chew on xylitol-sweetened sugar-free gum, which stimulates saliva and helps strengthen teeth while reducing plaque and tooth decay.

• Keep scissors, bottle openers, multi-tools and pin cushions handy to avoid using your teeth. 

2. "Flossing" without floss

Flossing each day is an important part of a good oral health routine — but only when you use actual floss. People have reported using unusual items to remove food from teeth — including fingernails, cutlery, safety pins and strands of hair. These unsafe, unsanitary items caused pain to 42% of people that reported using them.Even using a toothpick can damage your gums and introduce bacteria into your mouth.

Try this:

• Buy extra floss or floss picks to keep handy when you are on the go.

• If you use traditional floss, find one that fits your needs and preferences. Floss regularly by curving the floss into a “C” shape against the side of each tooth. Guide the floss gently up and down and don’t forget to floss behind your back teeth. 

3. Brushing too soon after eating something acidic

While it’s crucial to brush twice a day, brushing right after a meal is not always ideal. If you have consumed something acidic like citrus fruits, tomato products or wine, you can damage tooth enamel by brushing too soon.

Try this:

Brush your teeth before eating or drinking something acidic, and then drink a glass of water after to rinse away acids. Or wait at least 30 minutes to brush following acidic foods and drinks. 

4. Not maintaining your toothbrush properly

Take care of your toothbrush so it will take good care of your teeth. Brushes gather millions of bacteria from your mouth and can also pick up germs from their storage area. Plus, if you continue using the same toothbrush or toothbrush head for too long, the bristles can lose shape and won’t remove as much plaque, which may lead to cavities.

Try this:

• Rinse your toothbrush with warm water after each use.

• Store in an upright position in the open air to dry. Avoid touching other toothbrushes — and don’t cover the toothbrush, as it can lead to bacteria growth.

• Get a new toothbrush or toothbrush head at least every three to four months or sooner if the bristles look frayed or worn.

• Consider signing up for a subscription service to automatically receive replacement heads for your electric toothbrush. 

Avoid germs by storing your toothbrush far enough from the sink to prevent splashing and at least four feet away from the toilet. Don’t forget to close the toilet lid before flushing.

5. Sharing cups, straws and eating utensils

If you share cups, straws or silverware, you can spread cold and flu germs along with other diseases through the mouth. You could even harm little ones’ developing teeth by spreading cavity-causing bacteria to them. While parents can’t completely avoid spreading germs to children, try to limit it as much as possible.  

Try this:

• Avoid sharing anything that has touched your mouth or vice versa, including cups, spoons or other utensils.

• Don’t taste the food on your baby’s spoon or blow on their food. Avoid cleaning a pacifier or dropped toy with your mouth. 

• Take good care of your oral health, and make sure that your own mouth is free of tooth decay that can be transferred to others. 

6. Grinding and clenching

Grinding and clenching teeth is often caused by stress, anxiety, missing or crooked teeth, an abnormal bite or a sleep disorder. If you grind your teeth during sleep, you may wake up with jaw soreness or have a dull, constant headache. Grinding and clenching can wear down, fracture or even loosen teeth. 

Try this:

Talk with your dentist or physician. They may recommend options to reduce stress, including exercises, physical therapy, muscle relaxants or stress counseling. If you grind or clench your teeth in your sleep, your dentist may create a nighttime mouth guard.

7. Vaping and using other tobacco products

A recent outbreak of lung disease and deaths linked to vaping nicotine or cannabis products has made it clear that vaping is not a safe alternative to regular cigarettes. Vaping also stains teeth, causes dry mouth and makes it easy for bacteria to collect in your mouth. This can lead to cavities, tooth loss and gum disease.

Of course, using any tobacco products is dangerous. For instance, smoking cigarettes can lead to stained teeth, gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer and more. 

Try this:

• Ask your dentist or physician for help quitting.

• Don’t take your vaping pen or tobacco products with you when you leave home for the day.

• Try to understand what causes you to reach for a vaping pen or tobacco products.

• Develop a strategy to help you not give into cravings.

• Ask friends and family for support along the way.