Break the cycle, break the dental habit

Like a bad bounce off a line drive, all it takes is one bad habit to undo years of good oral health. Luckily, it’s never too late to break a bad dental habit. If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you, you’re in luck. Here’s how to stop these common habits and keep your smile healthy.  

1. If it's not food, don't bite it.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the following habits can damage fillings or chip and crack a tooth:

• Biting your nails

• Crunching ice

• Holding pins, nails or paperclips in your mouth

• Chewing on pens or pencils

• Using your teeth to open packages 

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

Try this:

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

• Drink fridge-chilled beverages 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, pocketknives, bottle openers and the like handy to avoid using your teeth. 

2. Don't floss without floss.


Daily flossing is an important part of a good oral health routine — but only when you use actual floss. People have reported using all sorts of unusual items to remove food from teeth —fingernails, cutlery, safety pins and strands of hair to name a few. These potentially unsafe, sometimes unsanitary and usually silly items caused pain to 42% of people that reported using them, according to the American Dental Association. Even something as simple as a toothpick can damage your gums and introduce bacteria into your mouth. Also: splinters.

Try this:

• Buy extra floss or floss picks for when you’re on the go.

• If you prefer certain kinds of 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 the area behind your back teeth. 

3. If you just ate, give your mouth a rest.


While it’s crucial to brush twice a day, brushing right after a meal might not always be the best idea. If you’ve just eaten or drunk something acidic like citrus, 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 to rinse away acids. Or, wait at 30 minutes to brush following acidic foods and drinks. 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. Remember proper toothbrush maintenance.

Brushes gather millions of bacteria from your mouth and can pick up germs from their environment. If you use the same toothbrush or toothbrush head for too long, the bristles wear down and won’t remove as much plaque, which may lead to cavities. Your toothbrush is a tool. Take care of it, and it will take care of your teeth.


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 your toothbrush. Covered brushes stay wet longer, and bacteria love moisture.

• Get a new toothbrush or toothbrush head 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 to prevent worse. And don’t forget to close the toilet lid before flushing.

5. Keep it to one fork per mouth, please.


If you share cups, straws or silverware, you can spread cold and flu germs along with all sorts of even worse stuff through the mouth. While it’s impossible to completely avoid spreading germs (and not all that great for your immune system), try to limit the spread as much as possible.  

Try this:

• Avoid sharing items that have been in your mouth, or someone else’s. This includes cups, spoons, gum and even the pens and pencils from tip 1.

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

• Take good care of your oral health. If your mouth has tooth decay, you may be able to transfer that bacteria to others. 

6. Avoid the weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Even thousands of years ago, people understood how stress impacts teeth. Ever sat in traffic? Worked out? Odds are you’ve ground or clenched your teeth. 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 could 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. Medical professionals 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 mouthguard.

7. Vaping, smoking and tobacco products?


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

Of course, the alternative of vaping tobacco is smoking. 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.