7 Habits to Break for Healthier Teeth

Teeth are protected by enamel, the hardest part of your body. Still, they’re far from indestructible.

It’s not only sugary foods and drinks and cavity-causing bacteria that wear teeth down over time. Several habits that have nothing to do with eating can do real damage to your pearly whites. Protect them by ditching these seven undesirable habits.

1. Using Your Teeth as a Tool. Cutting, ripping and tearing non-food items can lead to cracked teeth, serious jaw injuries or the swallowing of dangerous items. Give your mouth a break and snip string with scissors, not your incisors. And never crack nuts or open bottles with your teeth.

2. Biting Your Nails. This habit is a one-way ticket to chipped teeth. In addition, germs can infect your gums and cause bad breath, not to mention the increased risk of COVID-19 that comes from putting your fingers near your mouth, especially outside your home. Given that our jaws aren’t designed to stay in the projected position that nail biting requires for extended periods, the habit also can cause jaw dysfunction.

To break the habit, try using bitter nail polish and holding something you can fidget with to help keep your fingers away from your mouth. But, because nail-biting is often caused by stress, your best bet is to cut straight to the cause and find ways to create more calm in your life, like meditation and exercise.

3. Clamping Down. Clenching or grinding your teeth can lead to their chipping and cracking, as well as to muscle and joint pain. Severe cases can make it difficult to eat.

If you grind while sleeping, get into the habit of wearing a mouth guard at night. If anxiety or stress is causing you to clench or grind, practice relaxation exercises and make a conscious effort to recognize the signs that you’re clamping down.

4. Chewing Ice. This may seem harmless, but it’s an easy way to break a tooth or knock out a filling. If the temptation to crunch on ice cubes is too hard to resist, order drinks without ice, or always use a straw.

5. Brushing too Hard. Brushing twice a day is a critical part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But using a hard brush or too much force can damage teeth and irritate gums. Think of brushing your teeth as more gentle massage and less hard scrub.

6. Relying on Toothpicks. Cleaning between your teeth is a job for floss, not toothpicks. They’re far too abrasive to be rubbing on your teeth and the sharp tip can damage the base of your gums and lead to gum disease.

7. Using Tobacco. It’s no secret that smoking and tobacco use can leave your mouth looking and smelling less than perfect. But did you know that tobacco is a major cause of tooth decay and gum disease, too? Not to mention oral cancer. Kicking the habit might just save your teeth—and your life.