Here at Jennings Orthodontics, we are constantly reminding our patients in braces to practice good dental hygiene and avoid any oral habits that could jeopardize their progress. When patients don’t take care of their teeth and gums, it can increase treatment times and make it difficult to achieve the best results. But this advice doesn’t just apply to braces patients! Even if you brush and floss daily and see your dentist regularly, you may still have a bad habit or two that could be compromising your oral health. We’re going to take a look at some of the worst offenders below, so keep reading to learn how breaking these habits can protect your teeth—and your smile!
The technical term for this is bruxism, and it refers to the involuntary grinding of the teeth outside of normal chewing, swallowing, or speaking movements. This can show up during the day, at night, or both, although it’s often more noticeable during the nighttime hours. There are many possible causes for teeth grinding, including stress and anxiety, medications, certain medical conditions, and genetics. It is also associated with misalignment between the teeth and jaws, abnormal bites, and missing or crooked teeth.
Grinding your teeth can cause a number of issues, from disrupted sleep to jaw pain and headaches. The most destructive, however, has to do with the enamel. Over time, teeth grinding can wear down the enamel of your teeth, eventually leading to the exposure of the much softer dentin. Once that dentin is exposed, tooth sensitivity can be a real problem. The sensations can range from mild to intense, and may be long-lasting.
There are several options for treating bruxism that can help prevent any further damage and treat any damage that’s already present. This will generally involve treating any obvious underlying causes, such as reducing stress and anxiety, along with more proactive treatment, like wearing a mouthguard at night.
Sometimes it helps to simply be aware that you’re grinding your teeth. If you feel yourself clenching or grinding your teeth, try positioning the tip of your tongue between your teeth to train the jaw muscles to relax. At night, you can hold a warm washcloth against your cheek to produce the same effect.
Crunching ice (and other hard objects)
Do you finish a drink and then crunch down all the leftover ice? You may think this is a harmless habit, but the texture and temperature of ice cubes can actually fracture your teeth! They can also cause microscopic cracks in the surface of the enamel, which has the potential to lead to other dental issues over time.
Ice cubes aren’t the only culprit here. Popcorn kernels and pitted fruit can put undue stress on the teeth and occasionally lead to fractures. Chewing on items like pencils, pen caps, and fingernails are often done subconsciously, but these habits can also chip away at enamel, crack the teeth, and irritate the soft tissue inside a tooth.
If you are prone to chewing on things or biting your nails, try using sugarless gum to give your mouth something else to do! Healthy snacks with a satisfying crunch can be a good substitute, too, like carrots, celery, or apple slices. Bonus: these foods are also great for your teeth and oral health!
Using your teeth as a tool
Dr. Jennings has seen teeth used for a number of odd jobs over the years: tearing open a bag of chips, ripping a stray plastic tag off of clothing, uncapping bottles. Many of us do this without even thinking about it, but using your teeth as tools can be hard on them. One wrong move and a tooth can be traumatized, chipped, or even fractured.
It’s important to be mindful about what you’re using your teeth for. Try to reduce the amount of stress you place on them by keeping simple tools such as scissors and pliers in convenient places, so you won’t be tempted to do the dirty work with your own incisors!
Improper dental hygiene
Good dental hygiene goes beyond simple brushing and flossing. Take the type of toothbrush you’re using, for example. Some people believe that the firmer the bristles are, the better they’ll be at cleaning the teeth, but these brushes can actually irritate the gums and may lead to sensitive teeth, especially for older adults. That’s because the gums recede as we age, exposing the roots of the teeth and increasing sensitivity. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles instead, and brush gently to clean the teeth and gums.
You should be brushing with fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day, for two minutes each time, and flossing every night before bed. This ensures that bacteria and food particles are effectively removed, reducing your chances of developing tooth decay. Aim to replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months, or sooner if you have a cold or any other illness. Using antimicrobial and fluoride mouthwashes once a day can help to further improve your oral health by eliminating the bacteria that causes bad breath and gum disease.
Break bad oral habits with the help of Jennings Orthodontics
An experienced orthodontist like Dr. Jennings is trained to identify and successfully correct any orthodontic issue, but rooting out harmful oral habits is an important part of any diagnosis, too. You don’t have to be in braces to benefit from breaking a bad habit that puts your teeth at risk! If you’re in Louisville, Mt. Washington, or the surrounding areas and need a little help breaking free from a destructive oral habit, we can help. Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Jennings!