Teeth are built tough. With regular care they can last a lifetime. Still, the daily grind of chewing and brushing, along with injuries, can take a toll. Here are three of the biggest hazards and things you can do to avoid them.
Chipped, Fractured, or Broken Teeth
Teeth can sometimes chip or fracture when you bite down on something hard, like a popcorn kernel or stale bread. “But that kind of injury is actually quite uncommon,” says Steven E. Schonfeld, DDS, PhD, a retired dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association.
Teeth that have fillings or root canals are at highest risk, because they aren't as strong as those that haven’t had work done. “But even intact teeth can chip or fracture if you happen to bite down in just the wrong way on something hard,” Schonfeld says.
Accidents or sports injuries can also cause damage.
What you can do: If you have fillings in your back molars, try not to bite down on hard foods like bones, hard candies, and ice. Wear a mouth guard if you play sports that could injure your teeth, and get them for your kids that play sports, too. A survey of college basketball players found that mouth guard wearers had a much lower risk of dental injuries. You can buy mouth guards at most sporting goods stores, or ask your dentist to make a custom-fitted one.
A dentist can repair chipped teeth. Fractures are harder to fix, especially if the crack extends below your gum line. If you have a badly fractured tooth, your dentist may remove it.
Grinding Your Teeth
Teeth are built to chew and grind food. But if you grind or clench them a lot, you can damage their surfaces over time.
Long-term grinding can cause very small cracks in your teeth's outer shell, called enamel, making your pearly whites more prone to decay, says Anthony M. Iacopino, DMD, PhD. It can “even wear down the pointed surfaces of molars,” he says. Iacopino is the dean of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry.
Too much grinding can also cause headaches, muscle pain, and jaw injury.
Many people who grind a lot don't realize they have a problem until a dentist notices tell-tale signs on their tooth surfaces. That's one more good reason to get checkup every 6 months, Iacopino says.
Researchers think stress or anger may lead to tooth grinding. A 2010 study found that people who grind during sleep are more likely than people who don't grind their teeth to report trouble at work, daily problems, and physical problems.
Grinding while asleep may be linked to sleep apnea. Your doctor can test and treat you for this condition.
What you can do: Try to manage your stress. “I tell my patients who have signs of tooth grinding to find ways to relax,” says Declan Devereux, DDS. “Take a walk. Learn to meditate. Avoid stressful or frustrating situations if possible.” If that doesn’t help, your dentist may prescribe a mouth guard or splint, which fits over the upper or lower teeth. Also, don’t lock your teeth when you chew. They should be slightly apart.