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15 Ways to Wreck Your Teeth

To make your teeth last a lifetime, don't do these things.
By Pamela Babcock
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Teeth are tough -- their enamel is the hardest part of the body -- but they're no match for neglect, misuse, or abuse. Here are some surefire ways to find out how vulnerable your teeth are -- trust us, you don't want to do this:

1. Don’t Brush After Every Meal.

The ideal is to brush your teeth three times a day: after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But if you do it too soon, you can scrub away tooth enamel that becomes softer in the acidic environment created in your mouth when you eat.

“Make sure you wait 30 to 60 minutes after each meal, which gives the acidity time to neutralize and the teeth time to remineralize," says Debra Gray King, DDS, FAACD, of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry.

Brushing too much, too hard, or with a hard-bristle brush can also erode your enamel. Brush gently, using circular strokes and a soft brush.

2. Forget About Flossing.

Flossing stimulates gum health by cleaning between the teeth and under the gum line. Gums bleed when you brush vigorously? That’s a sign of mild gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, which can lead to tooth loss.

“You need to brush and floss your teeth every time you eat,” says Jeffrey Gross DDS, FAGD, a Cleveland dentist. “The longer food stays in contact with the teeth and the gums, the easier it is to create problems.”

3. Skip checkups.

Dentists recommend every six months, but most patients fail to comply. This allows plaque to form tartar, which attracts more plaque on its surface, carrying the plaque deeper within the gums. This can weaken supporting structures, such as bone.

“The sooner you find issues, the easier and a lot less expensive they will be to address,” King says.

4. Use Your Teeth as Tools.

Chomping ice and hard candy, not to mention popping off bottle caps and ripping open potato chip bags, can crack or break your teeth.

“People tend to do some wild things with their teeth,” King says. She recalls a patient in her 50s who habitually gripped the ropes of her sailboat’s mast between her teeth. 

Over time, the woman’s natural teeth had worn to the point she needed porcelain veneers. Find a bottle opener or pair of scissors. And if you’re sailing, use your hands.

5. Ditch the Mouthguard.

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) recommends mouthguards for many athletes. 

“Anytime there is a strong chance for contact with other participants or hard surfaces, it is advisable to wear a mouthguard. Players who participate in basketball, softball, football, wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, in-line skating, and martial arts, as well as recreational sports such as skateboarding and bicycling, should wear mouthguards while competing,” the AGD’s web site states. 

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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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