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Everyday Habits That Damage Your Teeth

Sugar, wine, and, yes, opening bottles with your teeth can hurt your smile.
By Georgie Binks
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

You plan meals, grab drinks, and play sports without giving much thought to your teeth. But you might not realize how food, beverages, and activities can wreck the health of your pearly whites. Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults over age 65 have lost all their teeth - here's how you can protect your own.

Sugar and Teeth

Sugar is the No. 1 enemy of your teeth, and the longer it stays in your mouth, the worse it is. Sugar is consumed by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. The acids eat away at tooth enamel. Avoid foods like jelly candies, which stick in your teeth longer than other foods and bathe them in sugar. Dried fruit such as raisins are no better. Reach for fresh fruit instead.

Beverages and Teeth

Soda is just plain bad for teeth, sugar-free or not. "You're bathing teeth in an acid environment," says Robert Sorin, DDS, clinical instructor in the department of dentistry and oral surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Club soda is harmful, too, because of its acidity, and so are juices with added sugar.

Alcohol, even just a glass of wine, is also acidic and can erode the teeth. In addition, alcohol dries out your mouth, reducing saliva production. "Saliva bathes the teeth and helps remove plaque and bacterial accumulations from the teeth's surface. Less plaque equals less risk for bacterial acids to cause decay," Sorin says. Rinse your mouth with water between drinks.

Other Risks to Teeth

If you use your teeth to snap off bottle caps, remove clothing tags, or open plastic bags, stop immediately. Smokers should also consider how the habit affects oral health. Nicotine yellows teeth and can also cause oral cancer. Chewing tobacco is even worse because the tobacco and associated carcinogens come into direct contact with the gums and soft tissues and stay there for a long time.

Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medicines might cause dry mouth. According to the American Dental Association, more than 500 medications -- from pain relievers to antihistamines -- can do so. Dry mouth inhibits saliva production and increases your risk of cavities.

If you play contact sports, pick up a mouth guard at a sports store or have your dentist make you a custom one for maximum protection and comfort.

You don't even have to be awake to damage your teeth. Sorin says as many as 8% of Americans grind or clench their teeth, especially at night. If this is you, make an appointment with your dentist right away.

Q&A on Chewing Ice

Q: "I started to chew ice 10 years ago because it is so soothing. Now I can't give it up. Is it really so bad for my teeth?"

Krystn Wagenberg, 51, producer, New York, N.Y.

 A: "Yes, unfortunately. Chewing on ice, pens, pencils, and bobby pins can cause wear and tear on the tooth and enamel surfaces covering the tooth. If your teeth are worn or chipped already, the ice can crack and damage the tooth structure."

Robert Sorin, DDS clinical instructor, department of dentistry and oral surgery, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine." 

Reviewed on October 31, 2012

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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