At Richard Chan Orthodontics, we always teach our patients how to keep their teeth healthy so they can make the most out of their treatment. After all, no one wants to invest in braces or Invisalign® and then do something to harm their smile.
Of course, there are obvious things like not brushing or flossing your teeth that will have a negative impact on your oral health. But, there are also a number of common habits and practices that you might not think twice about that can damage teeth too. In this post, Dr. Richard Chan will be sharing what these habits are and how they can affect your smile.
1. Grinding Teeth
Teeth grinding and clenching, called bruxism, can have a significant effect on your teeth. While a mild, daytime teeth grinding habit might not be a huge concern, chronic bruxism, especially if you grind your teeth at night, will cause complications if not addressed.
Teeth grinding often results in excessive wear of the enamel, chipped or fractured teeth, damaged restorations, headaches, pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, earaches, loose teeth and more.
Wearing a night guard will help prevent complications by providing cushioning against the grinding forces. Depending on the cause of bruxism, additional treatment could be needed to help stop the habit and minimize or correct teeth grinding damage.
2. Chewing on Ice, Pencils or Other Objects
What does chewing on ice do to your teeth? First, it can wear away your enamel, which protects your teeth from cavity-causing acids. As enamel erodes, teeth are more susceptible to decay, they become sensitive to hot and cold and, if the underlying dentin is exposed, they can even look yellow. Chewing on ice is also a culprit behind cracked and chipped teeth and worn-down bite edges.
Chewing on pens, pencils, fingernails and other hard objects will probably have the same outcome. Hard plastics like pens or anything with sharp edges can lead to hairline cracks in the enamel and injure the soft tissues of the mouth. Plus, any time you put objects in your mouth, you’re also introducing germs.
3. Eating Lots of Starchy Foods Like Potato Chips and Crackers
There’s always a lot of talk about sugar and teeth. But, the bacteria in the mouth feed on carbohydrates, meaning both sugars and starches. When they do, they release acids that leach minerals from the tooth enamel. Frequent acid attacks cause tooth decay. As tooth decay progresses, a hole forms in the tooth, which is what we call a cavity.
In addition to containing carbohydrates, whether or not a specific food is likely to cause cavities also depends on how long it will be in contact with the teeth and how fast the food is eaten.
Starchy foods like potato chips and pretzels are heavy on the carbs, tend to be snacked on at a leisurely pace and get stuck in the teeth. So, they check all of the cavity-causing boxes. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a treat, when it comes to harming your teeth, you’d be better off having a scoop of ice cream than you would a handful of crackers since ice cream is eaten quickly and rinses off the teeth easily.
4. Not Wearing a Mouthguard When Playing Sports
It’s important to wear a mouthguard during any sport or physical activity that could result in a blow to the mouth. Unfortunately, only a handful of sports require a mouthguard, though a large number of dental injuries occur during basketball and baseball where mouthguards aren’t typically worn.
Common orofacial injuries include cuts to the soft tissues of the mouth, chipped, fractured or knocked out teeth and/or a broken jaw. Wearing a mouthguard is a proven way to reduce these types of injury and keep your smile safe. If you have braces, wearing a mouthguard is especially crucial as an injury can damage your appliance and the brackets and wires can cause even more extensive trauma to your mouth.
5. Drinking Soft Drinks, Energy Drinks or Sports Drinks
While you can drink soda with braces, we always encourage moderation because soda is one of the worst drinks for your teeth. It contains a large amount of sugar, giving fuel to your oral bacteria and causing them to release acids. Soda also contains acids itself, including citric acid. Citric acid is bad for your teeth in large amounts because it causes enamel erosion. The one-two punch of sugar and acidity is a major contributor to tooth decay.
Is diet soda better for your teeth? Nope. While you skip the sugar, it still leads to acid erosion. Some diet drinks have more acidity because of the artificial sweeteners. In fact, a study on enamel dissolution from various beverages found no difference between regular and diet versions of the same brand.
Energy drinks, sports drinks, bottled iced tea and lemonade tend to be up there with soda too, as they’re all acidic and high in sugar. The same study on enamel dissolution found that canned iced tea actually caused more enamel erosion than most soda, with the exception of Mountain Dew and Sprite.
The effects of acid on enamel are cumulative, so the prolonged exposure inherent in sipping a carbonated drink makes you more likely to experience teeth damage. Your best bet is to drink plain water. If you do have a soft drink, enjoy a small glass as part of a larger meal and rinse your teeth with water when you finish.
6. Brushing Your Teeth Right After Having Something Acidic
Speaking of acidity, as part of a balanced diet things like tea and citrus fruits are fine and, in the case of fruit, even beneficial. But if you do have something acidic, when you brush your teeth matters. So, should you brush your teeth before or after coffee or your morning orange juice? The answer is, before!
That might sound counterintuitive, but the acidity weakens your enamel for about 30 minutes to an hour after eating or drinking. If you brush your teeth before the pH in your mouth returns to normal, you can inadvertently cause further damage to your enamel while it’s in its temporarily weakened state.
Instead, brush your teeth before breakfast and then rinse your mouth out with water afterwards. If you’re prone to coffee breath, you can chew a piece of sugarless gum to get rid of the odor and encourage saliva production. Or, if you’re not in a rush, wait an hour after having coffee, juice or acidic foods to brush.
7. Using Your Teeth as a Tool
It can be tempting to use your teeth to tear open a plastic package or rip a stubborn tag off, but the habit increases your risk of teeth damage. Using your teeth as a tool can weaken them and cause chips or cracks, leading to pain, infection and aesthetic concerns. Preserve your pearly whites by using scissors instead.
8. Constant Snacking or Sipping
How often you eat and drink is nearly as important as what you eat and drink. Again, every time you eat, plaque bacteria feed on the sugars and starches and release cavity-causing acids. It takes 30 minutes to an hour for your saliva to neutralize the acidity in your mouth. Every sip and bite starts the clock over again, exposing your teeth to more acids.
Snacking also produces less saliva than eating a full meal does. This means food bits aren’t as effectively rinsed away and they sit on the teeth for a longer period of time.
To prevent tooth decay and damage to your teeth, minimize snacking and sipping on anything aside from water. When you do snack, eat something that’s smile friendly and low in carbohydrates like nuts, cheese or carrot sticks. Have sugary or starchy foods and drinks with a meal, so your saliva production is in full gear in order to promote remineralization and whisk away debris.
9. Frequently Indulging in Chewy and Sticky Treats
Just as with the starchy things like chips or crackers, chewy and sticky foods stick in the teeth, making you more susceptible to cavities. Raisins and other dried fruits and gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, Starburst and other candies are especially harmful because they also contain sugar.
10. Sucking on Hard Candies or Cough Drops With Sugar
As long as you don’t chew them, hard candies, lollipops and cough drops should be better for your teeth since they dissolve and won’t get stuck in the nooks and crannies, right? Unfortunately, no.
These types of foods are high in sugar and still expose your teeth to carbohydrates and acid attacks. Since you’re sucking on them and they dissolve slowly, exposure is prolonged. Steer clear of hard candy and lollipops or opt for sugarless varieties (bonus points if they contain xylitol, which helps fight cavities). If you’re sick and need cough drops, look for sugarless ones or at least rinse your mouth out with water after having one.
Are You Ready to Experience Amazing Oral Health?
Aside from avoiding these teeth damaging habits, you can also improve your oral health with orthodontic treatment. Straight teeth are easier to clean and an aligned bite keeps your jaw healthy and strong. To find out your options for braces or Invisalign in Bothell, Monroe or Mill Creek, WA or Juneau, AK, schedule a complimentary consultation at Richard Chan Orthodontics today!