Every day, we do things that can damage our teeth. So, we asked dental expert Hadie Rifai, DDS, to advise us.
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What should we avoid? What day-to-day habits do we need to change to protect our teeth throughout the day?
Not surprisingly, there are foods and drinks that pose some of the biggest threats to your teeth — and it’s not just desserts, candy and soda.
Foods and drinks that are high in starch or refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, white rice and refined cereals, can also cause plaque buildup that can lead to cavities.
“You also want to avoid regularly eating acidic foods or drinks such as sodas, citric fruit or fruit juice,” says Dr. Rifai. “Citric foods can demineralize teeth, making them more susceptible to developing decay over time.”
He says coffee and tea can cause staining, and if you add sugar and cream, they become more prone to causing cavities.
“While brushing after meals is the ideal, a good rule of thumb is to follow up any of these foods or beverages by drinking plain water,” he says.
Avoid these 5 habits that can damage your teeth
Dr. Rifai cautions that you should not do the following because it can seriously damage your teeth and gums:
- Misuse your teeth. Chewing ice, hard candy, pens/pencils, eyeglasses or fingernails or using your teeth to open packages can be harmful because you can break or chip a tooth.
- Clench your jaw (also called bruxism). This can wear down your teeth and gums over time. It can also cause craze lines or fractures. Bruxism can sometimes go undetected and undiagnosed because many people either don’t feel the symptoms or don’t realize they clench. Bruxism can become a serious problem if left untreated. “Have your dentist evaluate your teeth and gums for signs of bruxism,” Dr. Rifai says. “If you do show signs of clenching or grinding, be proactive by listening to your dentist about treatment options.”
- Brush teeth too aggressively. Using bristles that are too firm for your gums or pressing too hard when you brush can also wear down your teeth and gums over time. It’s better to use a lighter hand and take time to brush thoroughly.
- Use tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, cigars or cigarettes. These are not only bad for your overall health, but also your teeth and gums. Tobacco puts you at higher risk for periodontal disease, because it reduces blood flow to your gums. It also causes bad breath, decreased saliva flow and higher tooth decay rate, and can cause oral cancer. It can ruin the appearance of your teeth, too. “If you use tobacco products, I would strongly urge you to see your dentist or physician to develop a plan to quit,” Dr. Rifai advises.
- Suck thumbs or fingers. Children ages 5+ who suck their thumbs can cause misalignment of their teeth, which can result in more serious problems as they age.
Overall advice for healthy teeth
Dr. Rifai offers a few more suggestions for maintaining dental and oral health, as well as a healthy smile. He always recommends a nutritious, balanced diet.
Even things that can harm your teeth are fine to eat in moderation, he says. However, they should be followed up with water and good oral hygiene.
Second, develop a good relationship with a dentist and hygienist you trust, and see them routinely. Don’t neglect your teeth because of finances, or lack of time or resources.
“It is always easier to be proactive rather than reactive,” Dr. Rifai says. “A dental emergency can be painful, stressful and expensive.”