We wear our smiles everyday, and yet, so many of us are wearing down on our teeth without even realizing it. It’s not enough to just brush and floss twice a day when there’s the potential to do some serious damage to our smiles.
Here’s a look at five pesky habits that can really hurt our teeth—and simple solutions to change the bad behavior.
Stress—about work, family or that endless list of things to do—can lead to all sorts of bad behavior for your pearly whites, from nail biting and teeth grinding to jaw clenching. These habits can not only cause fracturing of your teeth, but even the loss of teeth all together. And as we head into the holiday season, the factors that cause stress-related behaviors seem to only grow. To combat the tendency to take stress out on your teeth, make sure you find time to add other forms of stress relief to your schedule. Hit the gym to sweat out your stress, or take a meditative yoga class for a little internal zen. Or, schedule a deep tissue massage for a little of both. These activities provide both physical and mental relaxation, allowing you to divert that energy into more positive channels.
Dr. Stern says: “The most recent research shows the greatest damage to teeth comes during the day, when clenchers put tremendous force on their teeth and, because they’re so acclimated to doing it, they aren’t even aware of it! Studies show that daytime clenching is dramatically more powerful and far MORE likely to trigger pain the facial muscles than night time grinding!”
2. Not Getting Regular Check-Ups
You know the drill: twice-a-year dentist visits keep teeth clean and healthy. Not only do dentists floss, brush and remove any stains from your teeth during your visit, they check for overall hygiene health, which is crucial in addressing any dental problems before they become more serious. Sure, it can be difficult to find time to schedule your visit, but regular dental visits should be treated no differently than your annual physical exam or other health-related assessment. And if you can’t afford dental insurance, check out our 2 for 2 Program (but hurry, as it’s only being offered through 12/22/13).
Dr. Stern says: “Like anything else having to do with our health, the more control we have, the fewer the problems we encounter. A simple thing like a dental exam can prevent a lot of trouble—just ask anyone who’s lost some teeth!”
More than half of Americans experience frequent sleep problems and don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And missing out on a good night’s rest carries with it more risk than just having a grouchy attitude in the morning. Snoring and sleep apnea can both affect gum disease, a cause of persistent bad breath and sensitive gums, along with a host of life-threatening illnesses, including sudden death. Not to mention that a lack of sleep also triggers stress, which in turn leads to other bad habits for teeth (see above!). To avoid these pitfalls, get the full, eight recommended hours of sleep. Try turning off electronics and easing into sleep by listening to gentle music or reading a book before bed. And if you just can’t schedule a full night’s sleep, be sure to be vigilant about healthy teeth habits, like brushing and flossing.
Dr. Stern says: “Not only is the quantity of sleep important; the quality of sleep is critical. A disruption of any of the four stages of sleep, N1, N2, N3 and REM (that’s the one we all heard of) impacts everything from daytime sleepiness to heart disease, to mood and memory disorders! And sleep disordered breathing is the # 1 disruptor of good quality sleep.”
This sweet ingredient isn’t just bad for your waistline, it’s bad for your teeth as well. Sugar is a major factor in tooth decay—bacteria use it as a form of energy, so plaque on teeth grows faster in quantity and thickness. This then leads to cavities and other more serious tooth ailments. To prevent these dangers, reduce your sugar intake. Try to cut out sugary drinks and candy, which don’t offer nutritional benefits, and instead snack on fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings. Also stock your fridge with cheeses, nuts and chicken, which can protect tooth enamel by providing a boost of calcium and phosphorus, which remineralize teeth.
Dr. Stern says: “The best thing you can do here is to keep it simple—drink water when you’re thirsty and with your meals. Period. Soda contains enormous amounts of sugar. And diet soda has been shown to increase your appetite.”
5. Forgetting to Floss
Even those people who are vigilant about brushing twice a day will fess up to skipping the floss. Which is a huge mistake: floss is designed to clean the hard-to-reach places between teeth, where your toothbrush can’t help. These tiny crevices are where food and tartar tend to get stuck, causing a buildup of bacteria and plaque can occur. If you find yourself unmotivated to floss, try buying a flavored kind to spice up your routine. These days, floss comes in a host of delicious flavors, from mint and cinnamon to…cupcake!
Dr. Stern says: “Inflammation in the gums can impact the entire body. Cleaning between the teeth is the only way to control that inflammation. There are many devices to make this easier, including the air flosser, which we have here in the office for you.”