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Worst Things For Your Oral Health, Says Science

27 things dentists warn you not to do. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Dental and oral hygiene is an essential part of your overall health that is often ignored. Poor oral health has been linked to serious conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes and according to the World Health Organization, "It is estimated that oral diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people." While that number is alarming, the good news is oral diseases are largely preventable. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with several dental experts who reveal the worst things for your oral health and bad habits to break now. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Grinding Your Teeth

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Joseph Salim, DMD, General and Cosmetic Dentistry, Owner and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates tells us, "When you grind your teeth, you are applying constant pressure to them. This pressure will in turn be transmitted to surrounding structures, including the gums and bones that are around your teeth. This will then cause your gums to recede and/or your bones to be resorbed. Moreover, grinding your teeth can also cause the enamel covering the chewing surfaces of your back teeth to wear away and/or chip, leading to tooth sensitivity because of thinner enamel. Another consequence of grinding is the pressure it puts on your temporomandibular joint or TMJ, causing jaw pain, stiffness of the jaw, headaches, etc.

People mostly clench and grind their teeth during sleep, but with an increasingly stressful environment more and more of them find themselves doing this even during working hours. While it may be true that bruxism can diminish or even disappear throughout life, the damage it causes is unequivocal. If teeth are worn-down in some way, it means they are overloaded.

There are cases where only a few teeth are worn-down due to a particular malocclusion situation. This may only affect some teeth but not others. Though, this is the exception rather than the norm, and worn-down teeth are mostly due to bruxism.

How do you stop grinding your teeth?

First, one should try to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Get adequate sleep, limit stress, and coffee intake, alcohol, or cigarettes, especially in the evening. Releasing tension with sports can help, especially in children. However, the therapy of choice is the application of an acrylic (material) mouthguard prepared by a dentist. The mouthguard's smoothness prevents teeth from rubbing against one another by covering their cusps. Therefore a mouthguard relieves muscle tension, and it will also gradually wear-down while preserving teeth. Therapeutic usage of Botox to weaken the masticator muscle on both sides of the face can also help address the grinding issues."

2

Nail Biting

Young nervous woman looking at smartphone and biting her fingernails at home.
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Dr. Salim warns, "Nail-biting is bad for your teeth and jaw. Continuous nail-biting tends to wear out the incisors' enamel and cause dental damage.

It can lead to:

  • Malocclusions or poor dental occlusions; teeth may shift out of position because of the continuous pressure exerted on the jaw bone. Nail-biting may even lead to the jaw's displacement.
  • Gingival trauma and gums' infections due to germs found under fingernails.
  • Damage to the front teeth's enamel, chipping, fracturing, or even extensive wearing out of the teeth' crowns to the extent that the pulp is exposed..
  • Rupture of the vascular-nervous bundle at the apex level through continuous trauma (in the most severe cases). This can lead to the relative loss of tooth vitality, pulpal necrosis, and subsequent pathological consequences. These Include loss of the tooth's natural color, granuloma, and the possible formation of root cysts."

Dr. Hailee Rask, a board-certified orthodontist at Bluebird Orthodontics adds, "Most people don't realize, but biting your fingernails is not only bad for them but also bad for the alignment of your teeth. I see some patients that experience a shift in their front teeth from regularly biting their nails. This is especially upsetting for patients who have already had braces in the past and may need some extra correction now. If they are biting their nails for stress relief, I always recommend sugar-free gum instead. Gum won't move your teeth like biting your fingernails and may satisfy the same habit."

3

Eating Hard Foods and Citrus

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Dr. James A Ruggiero, DMD with Hackensack University Medical Center shares, "Chewing "hard" foods which can break teeth and restorations (fillings). In addition, Excess citrus fruits and juices- acidity causes tooth erosion and wear."

4

Bread

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Dr. Savita Chaudhry, DDS states, "We all need bread in one form or the other. But, when you chew the bread, saliva in the mouth causes the starches in the bread to break down into sugar. With the bread turning into a gummy substance like paste in the mouth, it tends to stick to the crevices between the teeth. This can trigger cavities. Choosing less-refined variants such as whole wheat bread that has less added sugars that don't easily break down is a healthier way to address your craving for carbs."

5

Potato Chips

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Dr. Chaudhry says, "Crunchy potato chips may be very satisfying for most of us. But these chips have a load of starch and the starch converts to sugar. The converted sugar gets trapped between and on the teeth feeding the bacteria resident in the plaque. Hardly ever do we eat just one of these chips and the acid generated from a handful lasts a while. Floss your mouth after you have eaten some of these chips so that all the trapped particles are removed."

6

Alcohol

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Dr. Chaudhry shares, "Most of us do know that alcohol is not very healthy. But, have you also known that when you drink alcohol, your mouth gets dry and a dry mouth has no saliva which is essential to keep you healthy. Saliva can prevent the food from sticking to the teeth and wash away particles of food. It also helps in repairing early symptoms of gum disease, tooth decay, and other types of oral infections.  Drinking plenty of clean water helps your mouth stay hydrated. Other solutions for oral hydration and fluoride rinses are also helpful."

7

Carbonated Drinks

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Dr. Chaudhry says, "Many people are aware that pop or soda has precious little good or none at all for our health even when the label says diet. According to an older study carbonated soda consumed in large quantities can cause damage to your teeth similar to crack cocaine or methamphetamine.  The plaque produces more acid to attack your tooth enamel when you consume carbonated drinks everyday.  Further, it also coats the teeth inacid drying your mouth and causing less saliva. A dry mouth can hasten tooth decay."

8

Not Brushing Your Tongue

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Dr. Kami Hoss, CEO of The Super Dentists and author of the best selling book, If Your Mouth Could Talk tells us, "Not brushing your tongue is often an overlooked area when brushing your teeth. Your tongue needs to be cleaned. Try to clean your tongue every time you brush your teeth to maximize your oral health. Use mouthwash to help clean hard to reach places on your tongue and help sanitize them."

9

Using a Manual Toothbrush

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According to Dr. Hoss, "Manual toothbrushes are fine if you know how to use them, but oftentimes people do not know how to brush their teeth the right way. This is why it is so important to invest in an electric toothbrush. These brushes make it almost impossible to brush your teeth the incorrect way and are a great way to clean your teeth and gums effectively."

10

Not Visiting the Dentist

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Dr. Hoss reminds us, "Not visiting the dentist regularly is a problem. Many people do not go to the dentist on a regular basis. This can be a real problem as you aren't getting regularly checked to see if there are any underlying problems with your mouth. Visit the dentist once or twice a year and get regularly cleaned and checked. This is critical to keeping your oral health healthy and keeping your teeth in healthy condition."

11

Not Flossing

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Dr. Hoss emphasizes, "Flossing is so critical for your oral health. Not only does it keep your teeth and gums clean from any food, or other substances lodged in your teeth, but it is critical to keeping your oral health healthy. Flossing should be done at least twice a day and more if needed after eating food that gets stuck in your teeth like popcorn."

12

Stress

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Dr. Shahrooz Yazdani, CEO and Director of Costello Family Dentistry says, "Stress shows itself differently in everyone, but many of us will clench our jaws or even grind our teeth when we are dealing with a stressful situation. These actions can wear down our teeth over time and also make them more sensitive than usual – especially if this is paired with other aspects of oral health, such as receding gums from gum disease or teeth grinding while sleeping. When you're dealing with stress, focus on breathing steadily, releasing the tension from your jaw and teeth, and you should be able to ward off stress-induced teeth wear.Stress shows itself differently in everyone, but many of us will clench our jaws or even grind our teeth when we are dealing with a stressful situation. These actions can wear down our teeth over time and also make them more sensitive than usual – especially if this is paired with other aspects of oral health, such as receding gums from gum disease or teeth grinding while sleeping. When you're dealing with stress, focus on breathing steadily, releasing the tension from your jaw and teeth, and you should be able to ward off stress-induced teeth wear."

Dr. Ankit Patel, DMD, MSD Chief Executive Officer of 24/7 Dental adds, "Stress can cause an increase in the production of cortisol, which is a hormone that can cause inflammation in your mouth, causing bad breath and gum disease."

Sargon Lazarof, DDS  Cosmetic Dentistry & Dental Implant Specialist states, "As we get older, we get more stressed and tend to grind our teeth while we sleep, this causes bad sleep and eventual jaw issues. These issues can be corrected with a simple night guard. This would restore your bite and relieve any jaw discomfort you may have while also preventing further issues to your teeth."

13

Brushing Too Hard

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Dr. Yazdani reveals, "This may sound counter-intuitive, as many people think that the harder they brush, the more effective their brushing will be. However, this is not always the case, and brushing too hard can actually damage your teeth and overall oral health by wearing your enamel and damaging your gums. If your toothbrush is wearing out and hardening excessively fast, or you notice gum pain regularly, chances are you are causing more harm than good to your oral health through brushing. A lighter brushing that is steady and rhythmic is the best way to clear plaque without causing damage."

14

Smoking Cigarettes

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Dr. Yazdani warns, "Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to damage your oral health. It dries out your mouth and gums, which makes them more susceptible to bacteria and tooth decay. The chemicals found in tobacco damage cells that line blood vessels in the mouth and throat. This damage can lead to an increased risk of developing oral cancer later in life and can cause bad breath and yellowed teeth and gums very quickly."

15

Eating Too Much Sugar

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Dr. Yazdani says, "We all know that consuming too much sugar, in food or drinks, is bad for our oral health, but many people still choose the sugary option. I warn against things like soda, candy, and alcohol, especially in excess, because the sugar content of these causes tooth decay and can be related to other dental problems such as gum disease. You should limit how much sugar you eat, especially between meals."

16

Not Brushing Your Teeth Twice a Day

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Dr. Yazdani explains, "Brushing removes plaque, the sticky film that forms on your teeth when bacteria in your mouth digest sugars and starches from food or drinks. Plaque causes cavities and gum disease if not removed by brushing and flossing. You should brush your teeth at least twice a day – in the morning and before going to bed – to prevent cavities and gum disease. This is a highly advised practice to help keep up your oral health."

17

Drinking Lemon Water

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Dr. Kyle Stanley, Chief Clinical Officer at Pearl states, "Drinking lemon water is often touted as a healthy habit, but the acidity in lemons can actually do a number on your teeth. Lemon juice is extremely acidic and can erode tooth enamel, and it takes around 30 minutes for your mouth to neutralize the acid. Because lemon water is often sipped slowly throughout the day, the neutralization process is prolonged, and teeth may be exposed to this harmful low pH for extended periods of time. This constant exposure can cause your tooth enamel to slowly erode over time, leading to increased chance of issues such as cavities and tooth sensitivity. "  

18

Mouth Breathing

Middle age hispanic man using laptop sitting on the floor at the living room touching mouth with hand with painful expression.
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Whitney DiFoggio, BS, RDH aka Teeth Talk Girl explains, "In addition to being an actual physical symptom of a breathing disorder, mouth breathing can also negatively impact your dental health.

The more you breathe out your mouth, the drier your mouth becomes. And the drier your mouth, the higher your chances are for:

-Cavities

-Gum disease

-Bad breath

This is because your mouth needs plenty of saliva to function properly by limiting the accumulation of bacteria.  So when someone is always breathing through their mouth instead of their nose— it dries out their saliva quicker than it can replenish itself.  And it's proven that people with dry mouths are statistically more at risk for (like we said) cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

Recommended advice:  If you think you are breathing through your mouth instead of your nose on a daily basis, always inform your dental provider at your next appointment.  They will often refer you to your primary physician for a sleep study, or an ENT specialist to examine your airway, or even a myofunctional therapist to address your oral function and breathing patterns."

19

Brushing with Abrasive Toothpaste (such as activated charcoal or baking soda)

young woman brushing her teeth with a black tooth paste with active charcoal, and black tooth brush
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DiFoggio says, "Although charcoal is super "trendy" right now, it is not safe to use as a toothpaste.  Charcoal toothpastes are detrimental to your tooth enamel because of their level of abrasivity. Although they may make your teeth appear whiter at first, they will actually damage your teeth in the long run, especially if overused.

Similarly, baking soda is also too abrasive for tooth enamel.  Straight-up baking soda from the container and baking soda toothpaste (from the store) are two entirely different things.  The toothpaste (if it has the ADA seal of acceptance) is properly formulated and tested for its safety and efficacy, whereas at-home DIY baking soda toothpaste is not!  Trying to create an at-home, DIY baking soda can actually cause micro-scratches on the outermost surface of your tooth enamel overtime.

Recommended advice:  Stick to the ADA-approved whitening toothpastes – and if you really want to whiten your teeth, talk with your dental provider about which type of whitening methods would be best for your individual mouth (such as whitening strips, custom trays, and/or in-office whitening)."

20

Fermentable Carbohydrates are Worse than Candy

Mature woman feeling strong pain, toothache.
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DiFoggio states, "Lots of us worry about candy causing cavities, however most people don't realize that fermentable carbs are even worse for your teeth than candy! After you eat regular carbohydrates, they eventually break down into sugars, however, fermentable carbohydrates specifically break down into sugars while they are still being chewed in your mouth!  Then the bacteria in your mouth causes acids to be produced which significantly increases the risk for cavities and tooth decay.  So, the worst foods for teeth are the sneaky sugars from fermentable carbohydrates such as: white bread, saltine crackers, chips, and pasta.

Recommended advice:  After you indulge in fermentable carbs, make sure to drink water and really swish it around your mouth and teeth!  This will limit the contact time the carbs have on your teeth and lower the amount of any broken down sugar particles left in your mouth."

21

Gummy Vitamins and Supplements

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Elizabeth Graves, a registered dental hygienist with Take Home Smile shares, "You wouldn't think vitamins and supplements cause cavities but that's exactly what the gummy form leads to. Gummy vitamins have sugar in them and are very sticky and get stuck in the grooves of the teeth and in between. Because they're not thought of as gummy candy, they often are ingested without brushing and flossing after."

22

Medium & Hard Bristled Toothbrush

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Graves explains, "If your toothbrush bristles aren't soft, then you are damaging your gums. Tough toothbrush bristles wear away at the gum line and cause gum recession. Receding gums exposes the roots of the teeth that do not have enamel on them. Enamel protects the inside layers and without it, you are at a higher risk for cavities." 

23

Direct-To-Consumer Braces

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Graves tells us, "Mail-order braces are becoming more advertised promising a perfect smile. What they don't share is the high possibility for permanent damage to your teeth, gums, supporting bone structure, and jaw. You will not be monitored closely enough and some of them even have current lawsuits against them that will not be disclosed to you as the consumer."

24

Following DIY Dental Trends on Social Media

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Dr. Brigham Sorenson, Dentist at Risas Dental and Braces reveals, "Recent trends have emerged on TikTok promoting dental and ortho treatment you can do at home, such as DIY braces, using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to whiten, or shaving teeth with a nail file. These can be very dangerous and permanently damage your enamel and smile."

25

Using Your Teeth to Open Bottles or Packaging

woman using dental water flosser while cleaning teeth and looking herself in bathroom mirror
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Dr. Sorenson says, "Your teeth are strong, but not invincible. When you use your teeth to open bottles or rip open packaging, you risk chipping teeth, injuring your gums, or causing your teeth to move. Don't waste the money you've spent on dental treatment or braces by using your teeth as tools."

26

Not Drinking Enough Water

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Dr. Sorenson reminds us, "Water is not only good for your overall health, but it's super important to your dental health. After eating a meal or sweet drinks, drinking water afterward can help rinse your teeth when you're not able to brush afterward. Keeping saliva flowing your mouth, like by drinking water, helps prevent tooth decay and cavities from forming." 

27

Chewing Ice

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Dr. Katrina Zhao,Principal Dentist/Managing Director with Midas Dental tells us, "Chewing ice is bad for oral health because it can damage tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is the hard, protective outer layer of your teeth. Once it is damaged, it is more susceptible to cavities. My best advice is to avoid these five bad things for your oral health. This will help keep your teeth and gums healthy and prevent cavities, gum disease, and other problems."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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