Protect Your Teeth: 19 Bad Dental Habits to Avoid

What are bad dental habits?

Protect Your Teeth
19 Bad Dental Habits to Avoid

You brush and floss your teeth twice a day and see your dentist and hygienist regularly, but did you know common, everyday habits may be harming your teeth?

  • Some habits involve what (or how) you eat.
  • Some bad habits involve what you drink.
  • Other habits involve playing sports and doing other activities that you probably think have nothing to do with your teeth.

It's time to go the extra mile to take care of your smile. Get ready to learn the 19 bad dental habits to avoid and how to protect your teeth from unnecessary wear and tear. How many of these do you do? Take mental notes and drop these bad dental habits to ensure a great smile for years to come.

Grinding teeth

What is teeth grinding? Officially known as bruxism, teeth grinding affects an estimated 8% of adults and the behavior can start as early as when they are infants. People who suffer from the condition often grind their teeth at night and in their sleep. The symptoms of teeth grinding may include jaw pain, ear pain, headaches, and worn-down teeth. The causes of teeth grinding are not entirely known, but factors like stress, anxiety, snoring, and use of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine may play a role. Because the behavior can be so uncomfortable, many people want to know how to stop grinding their teeth at night.

While there is no cure for bruxism, using a mouth guard for teeth grinding is effective in *adults. A dentist may also prescribe a mouth splint to help protect the teeth and oral structures against grinding. Because children are still growing and developing, a mouth guard is not recommended until growth has been completed. Although there is no solid scientific evidence that the following natural remedies are effective against teeth grinding, they may offer some benefits and are not harmful:

  • Eat a crunchy snack before bed. Chewing relaxes the jaw muscles so you may be less likely to clench them at night.
  • Place a warm compress on your jaw to promote muscle relaxation.
  • Practice yoga or meditation regularly to combat stress, which may be associated with teeth grinding.

Chewing on ice

Chewing on ice is bad for your teeth because you could crack or chip them. Small cracks in your teeth can get bigger over time, eventually leading to a tooth fracture. Can't resist the urge to nibble on ice cubes? Sip water and beverages that have been chilled in the fridge.

Interestingly, the medical term for chewing on ice compulsively is pagophagia. Ice chewing is a form of pica, which refers to the eating of substances -- including ice -- that have no nutritional value. Ice chewing may occur in those who suffer from anemia or iron deficiency.

Populations especially at risk for ice chewing include:

  • Young people
  • Menstruating women
  • Those who donate blood

Playing sports without a mouth guard

All sports carry the risk of injury and dental injuries are certainly no exception. This is particularly true for high-contact and impact sports such as hockey, basketball, soccer, and football. A sports mouth guard helps to reduce the risk of common dental injuries such as fractured teeth, knocked-out teeth, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dislocation. A mouth guard helps to cushion your teeth and jaws from heavy impact and is an essential part of an athlete's protective gear. The mouth guard can be custom-made to fit properly so that it won't affect your ability to breathe or speak while at play.

Your mouth guard can do double duty when used for teeth grinding. Grinding your teeth can cause jaw pain, headaches, and even fractured teeth! Using a mouth guard for teeth grinding will help reduce the stress on your jaw and teeth at night.


Oral Health: 19 Habits That Cause Bad Teeth See Slideshow

Tongue piercings

Different types of tongue or mouth piercings may be popular, but they can damage your teeth and mouth. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist areas. Unfortunately, the mouth is the ideal environment for a wound, such as a piercing, to become infected. Pain and swelling are just a few of the potential complications you may experience after getting different kinds of oral piercings. Tongue piercings may chip or damage teeth and gums if they come in contact with these structures. Be mindful of mouth jewelry and avoid contact that could damage your teeth and hurt your mouth.

Oral piercings require meticulous aftercare. Keep the site clean and report any symptoms of infection (fever, pain, swelling, chills) to your doctor or dentist immediately. Use mouth rinse frequently to hinder the growth of bacteria and avoid infection. Check jewelry periodically to make sure it is secure. You don't want to accidentally swallow it! Remove your piercing and use a mouth guard before playing sports, especially contact sports.

Bedtime bottles

Even though baby teeth are temporary, they are essential for proper nutrition and preparing the way for future permanent teeth in the mouth. Baby teeth are also still susceptible to decay. Giving your baby a bottle at night at bedtime increases the risk of dental decay. The decay can be so extreme that it has been given the name "Baby Bottle Tooth Decay." Milk contains sugar that feeds bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that damage teeth leading to dental decay. Allowing your baby to continuously sleep at night with a milk bottle allows the mouth bacteria many uninterrupted hours to damage your little one's teeth. Give your baby a bottle of milk well before the baby goes to bed and afterward, plan on cleaning the teeth and mouth with gauze or a toothbrush.

Start good habits early in life to protect your baby's oral health. Establish a bedtime routine that doesn't involve a bottle of milk. A warm bath and soothing music may be all your baby needs to promote sleep. If your baby still wants a bottle, filling it with water instead may still provide some comfort.

Start good habits early in life to protect your baby's oral health. Establish a bedtime routine that doesn't involve a bottle of milk. A warm bath and soothing music may be all your baby needs to promote sleep. If your baby still wants a bottle, filling it with water instead may still provide some comfort.

Cough drops

Cough drops are meant to help calm your cough and soothe your throat, but they may do so at the expense of your teeth if they have sugar. Because they are slow to dissolve in your mouth, cough drops bathe your teeth in sugar, which feeds bacteria. This sets you up for enamel erosion and possible tooth decay. If you need a cough drop, opt for different kinds that are sugar-free.

The health of your teeth isn't the only thing to consider when choosing a cough drop. Although cough drops are generally considered safe while pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your healthcare professional before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Having some tea with a bit of honey is another time-honored way to soothe your cough.

Gummy candy

Do you love chocolate, lollipops, gum, and chewy candy? Frankly, none of them is great for your teeth, but sticky, chewy types are especially the worst offenders. Gummy candy, jelly beans, and caramel stick to your teeth and stay there in the crevices until they dissolve. This provides an ongoing sugar feast for bacteria in your mouth that produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel.

If you must have candy, opt for sugar-free options. Better yet, choose healthy foods to snack on instead. Fruit can provide you with a bit of sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth while giving you a dose of nutrients that are actually good for you. Fruit supplies you with:

Drinking too much soda

Soda may be public enemy number one for your health and your teeth. It's a source of high sugar and liquid calories that are bad for your smile as well as your waistline. Sugary soda increases the risk of tooth decay and soda is also high in phosphoric and citric acids, which can eat through tooth enamel. It's best to skip soda altogether. If you must indulge, sip it through a straw to minimize contact with your teeth. Rinse your mouth out with water immediately after drinking soda to wash away sugar and acid. However, wait 30 minutes after drinking soda before brushing your teeth. After drinking soda, the enamel on your teeth is softer and more easily damaged so you don't want to do further damage by brushing right after.

What are other potential side effects of drinking soda? Soda drinking increases the risks of both diabetes and obesity. Think you're off the hook by choosing diet sodas? Not so fast. Diet sodas have health risks, too. Daily consumption of diet soda has been associated with both metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a set of risk factors that include high blood pressure, abdominal fat, high levels of cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

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Opening stuff with your teeth

We've all done it, but using your teeth to open a bag of chips or wrench the cap off of a bottle is a really bad idea. Using your teeth to open things can lead to tooth damage like chips, fractures, and other kinds of damage. If you're lucky, a damaged tooth may be repaired with just a filling. If the damage is severe or very deep, you may need a root canal and a crown to preserve the look and function of your tooth.

Remember this cautionary tale the next time you're tempted to use your teeth to rip open a bag of chips. Reach for a pair of scissors, bottle opener, or other implement instead to open that package or bottle. Save your teeth from unnecessary potential damage.

Sports drinks

Sipping a sports drink after being active may seem like a good thing to do, but think again. Just like soda, sports drinks contain sugar and acid that can damage your teeth. These drinks damage your teeth for up to 20 minutes after you drink them. Admittedly, sports drinks have less sugar than soda, but because they are less sweet, you may be inclined to drink more of it. This increased sugar intake can also raise your risk of diabetes and obesity.

To preserve and protect your teeth, choose plain water instead of acidic, sugary sports drinks to rehydrate. If you do drink a sports drink, rinse your mouth out with water immediately afterward. Then wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. The acids in sports drinks soften tooth enamel, so if you brush immediately after sipping the drink, you risk further damage to your teeth. Sports drinks are no better for your teeth and waistline than soda. Remember that and don't buy into the marketing hype that tries to tell you otherwise.

Fruit juice

One survey found that adults grossly underestimate the amount of sugar in fruit drinks, sometimes by as much as 50%. The sugar content of some fruit juices is equivalent to that found in soda. In terms of dental health, fruit juice's high sugar content increases the risk of tooth decay. Citrus juices such as orange juice and lemonade are very acidic and contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel. Additionally, the same survey found that liquid calories comprised about 25% of the daily calories consumed by those participating in the study.

The sugar, acid, and calories in fruit juice aren't good for your teeth and body. You can get your fruit fix in much healthier ways:

  • You can enjoy the taste of juice without the wallop to your teeth and waistline by adding just a splash of juice to a glass of mineral water.
  • Drink plain water with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
  • Enjoy whole fruits that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are good for you.

Potato chips

High-starch foods stick to teeth and remain longer in the mouth than non-starchy foods. Potato chips are a perfect example. They remain on your teeth long after eating them and the results are similar to constant snacking. The starches serve as food for bacteria in your mouth. Bacteria produce acid and the acid wears down your enamel and sets the stage for tooth decay.

Use these tips to protect your teeth after eating potato chips:

  • Eat a crunchy apple or carrot to help remove starches stuck to your teeth.
  • Brush or floss after you eat to remove food particles and minimize plaque formation.

Constant snacking

Constant snacking during the day means your teeth are exposed to more sugar. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar-producing acids that can erode tooth enamel. Frequent snacking contributes not only to tooth decay but also to an increased risk of obesity. Follow these snacking do's and don'ts:

  • If you're hungry between meals, resist the urge to reach for sticky, starchy snacks like potato chips and pretzels.
  • Forego liquid calories, too. Drinking more soda or alcohol bathes your teeth in sugar for bacteria to feed on. The best smile-friendly drink to reach for if you're thirsty is water.
  • Curb your hunger by munching on cleansing-type snacks like carrots, apples, and celery. They will help remove food particles from your teeth.


Protect Your Teeth: 19 Bad Dental Habits to Avoid See pictures of dental procedures and oral health conditions See Images

Chewing on pencils

Chewing on pencils or other objects is a bad habit many people have. People may chew on pencils, erasers, bottle caps, and other things. The behavior is bad for teeth because it puts unnecessary stress on your teeth and could lead to a tooth chip or fracture. Chewing on foreign objects may also introduce potentially dangerous bacteria into the mouth. This habit may also injure the gums and other soft tissues in the mouth, causing them to become swollen.

If you have the urge to chew, choose sugarless gum containing xylitol that promotes saliva flow and is good for your teeth.

Drinking coffee

Coffee may be the fuel you use to start your day, but caffeine in your morning brew can contribute to dry mouth and tooth decay. Caffeine stains teeth and inhibits saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acids in the mouth and helps clear food particles from teeth. Combat dry mouth from caffeine by drinking more water throughout the day. And if you add sugar to coffee, your teeth may suffer from it. If you indulge in multiple coffee refills throughout the day, your risk of cavities increases even more.

If you must have coffee, follow these tips.

  • Choose decaf varieties to skip caffeine which can lead to dry mouth.
  • If you must have a sweetener, choose a sugar-free kind that won't harm your teeth.
  • Chew sugarless gum containing xylitol which is proven to reduce the risk of dental carries and stimulate saliva flow.


Tobacco is bad for your teeth, oral tissues, and body. Here are just a few ways that smoking*tobacco use are bad for you:

  • It causes dry mouth which allows plaque to build up. Smoking is a risk factor for gum disease which is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults.
  • Tobacco use stains teeth and increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to lose teeth.
  • Smoking and tobacco use are associated with increased rates of oral and lung cancers.

Several strategies are available to help you stop smoking. Speak to your doctor about patches, medications, and other treatments that can help you kick the habit.

Drinking red wine

Several substances in red wine contribute to staining. Tooth enamel is not smooth. It contains small cracks that are susceptible to stains. Chromogens, acids, and tannins are three components of red wine that seep into cracks in tooth enamel, causing stains. Chromogens give red wine its deep, rich, red color. Acids erode tooth enamel. Tannins promote dryness that allows red pigments to bind to and discolor teeth.

You can do things to keep red wine stains from forming on your teeth. Eat a protein-rich snack, like cheese, when you drink wine. Rinse your mouth out with water after you imbibe. C Chewing gum afterward can help, too. These activities promote saliva flow that can help neutralize acids in the mouth.

Daily wine consumption may provide health benefits for some people. In one study, people who had well-controlled type 2 diabetes who drank red wine every night experienced moderate benefits in their cholesterol numbers. However, not everyone should drink wine before bed. Women should not drink red wine or other alcoholic beverages while pregnant. The risks and benefits of alcohol consumption differ slightly for men and women. Speak with your healthcare professional if you want to know if wine consumption is a healthy practice for you.

Drinking white wine

Red wine is not the only kind that can do damage to teeth. One study suggests that white wine has the potential to cause more severe enamel erosion than red wine. White wine strips more calcium from teeth than red wine. White wines contain the same damaging tannins and acids that red wines do. The food you eat after drinking white wine affects staining, too. Skip the beet salad immediately after you've had wine. Wine primes your teeth to pick up whatever pigments are in the foods you're about to eat. The same rules apply to drinking white wine as compared to red. Women should not consume wine and other types of alcohol while pregnant.

Binge eating

Binge eating disorder is a condition in which the sufferer consumes vast amounts of food and feels unable to stop eating. A person with the disorder often chooses high-calorie foods and drinks to binge on, often at night. The behavior is damaging to health, and the excess sugar is harmful to teeth. Bulimia is a similar disorder involving bingeing but the sufferer also vomits to purge what he or she has eaten. Stomach contents are highly acidic and very damaging to teeth. Symptoms and signs of eating disorders may include depression, weight gain, feelings of shame, and being out of control. The causes of binge eating disorders and other eating disorders are complex.

People who have an eating disorder can seek help to control their behavior to safeguard their health and teeth. Recovery is possible and treatment is available to help overcome the disorder.

Medically reviewed by Kenneth Rotskoff, MD, DDS; Board Certification in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery “Going the Extra Mile for Tooth Protection”

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