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Your teeth are made from tough stuff. Their outer layer, the enamel, is the strongest substance in your body. But habits, health conditions, and injuries can lead to wear and tear.

Learn what you can do to protect your smile from problems like these.

Grinding and Clenching

Your teeth are meant to bite down and chew, but too much of it can cause damage.

“In the long-term, the friction can wear away at enamel and fracture fillings,” says Kimberly Harms, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.

Your dentist might call this bruxism, and it affects millions of adults. It can happen during the day or while you sleep. A few things may cause it:

  • Stress and anxiety. They can trigger it, or make it worse.
  • Teeth alignment. The way they line up may cause grinding.
  • Medicines. Some antidepressants can lead to it.
  • Sleep apnea. Treat the apnea and the grinding may end.

Awareness is your first line of defense against grinding and clenching.

“I know from personal experience that you can grind your teeth without even realizing it,” Harms says.

If you notice yourself doing it, rub your tongue behind your front teeth, or place the tip between your teeth. 

Tell your doctor and dentist if you have headaches or facial or jaw pain, tightness, or soreness. If stress is the cause, do some relaxing activities: Exercise, spend time with friends, or take a few deep breaths.

If you grind your teeth at night, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard. Your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxer. He may want to keep track of your sleep to check for a sleep disorder.

Chipped, Fractured, or Broken Teeth

Those problems can stem from heavy force or pressure, says Eugene Antenucci, DDS, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. 

It can happen when you bite down on a hard food or object, like a piece of crusty bread, ice, or pens. Impact from sports or accidents can also damage your teeth. Sports injuries account for up to 39% of dental injuries in children.