Brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist regularly — we all know the pillars of good dental hygiene. But knowing them and maintaining them are two different things. Nearly 50% of people above 30 have signs of gum disease and 26% of adults have untreated cavities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s not uncommon to have issues with your teeth or gums, and dentists say certain lifestyle factors may be behind some of your oral health issues. In fact, common behaviors can negate the benefits of good oral hygiene — and you’re probably guilty of some of them.
Below, we spoke with dentists about the tooth-damaging habits and behaviors that they advise against and would never, ever do themselves:
1. They don’t chew ice.
“The first thing that came to mind for me was chewing ice,” said Dr. Natalie Peterson, a clinical associate professor of dentistry at the University of Minnesota.
“A lot of people don’t think about it, but they chew on the ice in their drink and they just don’t think about the damage that it can do,” she said.
Ice can break your teeth because not only is it hard, but it’s cold, too, Peterson noted. It can be particularly damaging for people with fillings. “The thought of chewing on ice just gives me shivers,” she said.
2. They don’t bite their nails.
According to Dr. Jennifer Soncini, a clinical associate professor of pediatric dentistry at Boston University, biting your nails can lead to dental issues. Plus, nail-biting is often a habit, which means your teeth have to deal with this action repeatedly.
As you bite your nails, you wear down the enamel on the edges of your teeth, Soncini explained. Enamel plays many important roles — it helps protect your teeth from cavities, erosion, infection and sensitivity to cold, hot or sweet foods.
3. They don’t open bags or bottles with their teeth.
Using your teeth to open up a bag of chips or bottle of water may seem harmless, but dentists say it’s not.
“Teeth are strong and very durable, but they are not meant to open bottle tops, tear apart packages or chew on hard objects,” Dr. Jarrett Manning, a comprehensive cosmetic and implant dentist and owner of JLM Dental Studios in Georgia, told HuffPost via email.
It puts unnecessary stress on your teeth. “Utilizing your teeth in this manner can lead to pain, broken or cracked teeth, root canals, or even teeth that need extracting,” Manning added.
4. They avoid eating gummy candy.
Sticky candies like gummy worms, gummy bears and peach rings are all items that dentists steer clear of. Why? They can get stuck in the grooves of your teeth and between your teeth, which can cause cavities, Soncini said. They can also pop out fillings.
Beyond gummy candy, Peterson said she specifically avoids sour gummies.
“I kind of think of these as the trifecta of bad. They’re sticky, they’re super sugary and they’re really acidic — that’s why they taste sour,” Peterson said.
5. They don’t consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
“Alcohol leads to dry mouth and decrease saliva production, and because saliva’s role is to help cleanse the mouth, protect teeth and neutralize acids, a decrease in saliva can increase your risk of getting cavities,” Manning said.
6. They don’t use a toothbrush with too-hard bristles.
Peterson said she recommends toothbrushes with soft bristles for several reasons.
Hard- and medium-bristle toothbrushes “can be really abrasive to your gums, so they can cause more recession, and it’s hard to fix recession once it’s happened,” she explained. Also, toothbrushes with hard or medium bristles can be abrasive to your teeth in general, she said.
7. They don’t smoke.
“I would never smoke or use tobacco,” Manning said. “Not only can smoking lead to serious health issues, it can cause severe oral health issues, tooth discoloration and in extreme cases, oral cancer.”
Smoking is a hard habit to quit, but there are resources available to help you achieve this goal. If you don’t smoke, don’t start for the sake of your oral health and beyond.
8. They don’t skip out on their daily dental hygiene.
This will likely not be surprising, but dentists say skipping brushing and flossing is a major no-no.
“Flossing daily along with brushing is the key to fighting gum disease,” Manning said.
Additionally, Soncini said it’s extra important to brush your teeth at night.
“Never ever, ever, ever go to sleep without brushing your teeth,” Soncini explained. “You can spend a whole day without brushing, but if you don’t brush before you go to bed, that is the worst you can do to your mouth.”
Going to bed with a clean mouth can keep bacteria from growing overnight, Soncini said.
9. They don’t miss dentist appointments.
“I also would never ignore my regular dental checkups,” Manning said. “Routine dental checkups are crucial for maintaining oral health and catching dental issues early.”
In terms of how often you should visit your dentist for routine checkups, it depends on your personal dental history and other issues.
“Regular checkups for patients should be kind of tailored for each individual patient and their risk factors and their overall dental health,” Peterson said.
“Some people might only need to come in once a year, they might be pretty healthy; a lot of people, twice a year is a good idea; and some people that have risk factors or dental problems, they might need to come in three to four times a year,” Peterson continued.
Talk to your dentist and dental hygienist to figure out what the best frequency is for you.