11 Habits That Damage Teeth

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You may brush, floss and visit your dentist regularly to keep your smile bright and healthy, but do you know what habits actually damage your teeth? You probably already know that snacking on sugary foods between meals is a bad habit, but some other habits that damage teeth are not so obvious. Is there something you're doing every day that's putting your oral health at risk? Here are some harmful oral health habits to watch out for.

1. Brushing Your Teeth and Gums Too Hard

Yes, it is possible to overdo tooth brushing. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that using a hard-bristled toothbrush or pressing too hard while brushing can damage your gums and teeth. To avoid this, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush your teeth gently in wide strokes.

2. Biting Your Nails

If you need an added incentive to stop biting your nails, consider the damage you may be doing to your jaw and teeth. According to the ADA, nail biting can cause jaw dysfunction because it causes you to hold your jaw in a protruded position for long periods. Nail biting can chip your teeth, too. To curb this habit, try painting your nails with nail polish.

3. Chewing Ice

After finishing a cool, refreshing drink, do you absentmindedly chomp on the remaining ice cubes? If you don't want to risk a broken tooth or filling, the ADA recommends drinking through a straw or taking your drinks without ice to help kick the habit.

4. Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth

Clenching and grinding teeth is often a subconscious habit, but it can result in damaged teeth, muscle pain and restricted jaw movement. To help prevent this harmful habit, the ADA recommends relaxation exercises, a nighttime mouth guard and trying to be more aware of when the clenching or grinding starts.

5. Using Tobacco

Whether it's cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco, the Cleveland Clinic states that all tobacco products are harmful to your teeth and gums. Using tobacco increases your risk of gum disease, bad breath, dry mouth, tooth decay and oral cancer. Talk to your physician about programs to help you give up tobacco.

6. Sucking Your Thumb or Fingers

Sucking thumbs or fingers is fine for babies, but beyond the age of 5, the habit may result in misaligned teeth, notes the Cleveland Clinic. As the child grows older, this misalignment can lead to serious dental problems. If your child is 5 or older and continues to suck their thumb or finger, their pediatrician or pediatric dentist can offer advice for weaning children off thumb sucking.

7. Using Toothpicks

You might think you're doing the right thing by picking food debris out of your teeth after a meal, but poking around in your mouth with toothpicks or other non-dental implements can result in damaged, infected gums, according to Mayo Clinic. Instead, floss or use an ADA-approved dental cleaning tool to remove food stuck between your teeth.

8. Misusing Your Teeth

Whenever you hold something in your teeth or bite open a package, you're risking injury to your jaw or a cracked tooth, explains the ADA. Take your time with your task, and don't use your teeth as a third hand or a pair of scissors.

9. Sipping Soda

Regularly drinking carbonated soft drinks can lead to eroded tooth enamel, as the University of Rochester Medical Center warns. Switch to plain water (preferably fluoridated), milk or green or black tea. These can help to strengthen your enamel and protect your teeth from mouth bacteria.

10. Snacking on Sugary Treats

The ADA explains that eating high-sugar snacks between meals feeds the bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. Eat balanced meals so that you're less likely to feel hungry between meals, and if you do eat something sugary, drink plenty of water afterward.

11. Avoiding the Dentist

Along with these habits that damage teeth, avoiding preventive dental care can also impact your oral health. It's easy to tell yourself that you're too busy for a dental checkup, or that the twinge of pain you feel whenever you bite down will probably go away by itself, but don't neglect to visit your dentist regularly. The next time you're tempted to put off scheduling a dental appointment, make the effort to place that call.


This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7