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Oral Matters: Why You Should Kick Bad Oral Habits

Why You Should Kick Bad Oral Habits

There's no shortage of advice when it comes to the good things you can do for your teeth. If you ask your dentist, your mom or your friends, there's no doubt they'll say "brush your teeth, floss and visit the dentist for regular dental exams." You may even hear "use fluoride."

What you might not hear much about are the bad things you can do to your teeth.

The list of bad oral habits reads something like a catalog of nervous ticks: teeth grinding, habitual chewing and using your teeth as tools.

While you may think that these habits are harmless, they can actually wreak havoc on your teeth over time, making them weak, misaligned and even misshapen.

Recognizing a bad oral habit and learning about the negative consequences is the first step to prevention. The most crucial step, however, is putting an end to the bad habit; because what you stop doing just might save your teeth.

Beyond the Grind

Bruxism is the clinical term for the habitual grinding or clenching of your teeth. Stress, sleeping problems, an abnormal bite and missing teeth are all linked to bruxism, but definite causes are not yet known. Although bruxism is common, many people are unaware that they grind or clench their teeth because they usually do it while sleeping.

Initially, bruxism starts out mild and occurs only on occasion. Waking up with a headache, earache or jaw pain are usually the first signs of a problem.

Gradually, the discomfort becomes more acute and the damage more severe. The enamel of your teeth can get so worn down that your teeth become sensitive to temperature and pressure; cracks and fractures can appear; and your jaw joints may be injured, which is a sign of TMJ disorder.

If you suspect that you grind or clench your teeth, it is critical that you visit the dentist for treatment. In many cases, wearing a dentist-prescribed mouth guard at night can provide substantial protection for your teeth.

When Chewing Bites

Your teacher or mom might have reprimanded you for biting on a pen or pencil when you were in second grade, but truth be told, both kids and adults are guilty of this bad oral habit.

Kids might do it simply because they have a habit of sticking everything in their mouths. But adults often chew habitually because of stress or anxiety.

Although it may feel like a benign way to self-soothe, chewing on a pen or pencil can actually fracture your teeth. And if that's not enough impetus to stop, consider this: Tooth fractures can be very costly to repair.

If you must chew, try chewing gum instead -- why spend big bucks on tooth repair when you can chew on a stick of gum for just pennies? You'll not only save your teeth -- you'll save your bank account!

Be aware that chewing on ice cubes, hard candies or your fingernails doesn't give you a "get out of jail free" card. Chewing on any of these items can damage your gums or cause a chipped tooth.

Cuts Like a Knife

You may be inspired to try cutting through everything and anything with your teeth after watching National Geographic, but it's just plain risky.

Using your teeth to cut string, open packages or tear tags off of clothing can dislodge a dental crown or tooth filling, and even create a divot in your teeth that might lead to a crack or fracture.

Tempting as it may be to use your teeth to cut through things other than food, it's best to let your scissors or knives do their job. Yes, it might mean that you have to wait to get home to try on your new shirt, but how good will it look if you have a broken tooth?

No Smoking, Please

Big Tobacco has skirted the issue for years, but there's no longer any question that smoking is one of the most destructive oral habits you can acquire. It has been linked to lung cancer, throat cancer, and mouth cancer, as well as heart disease.

Life-threatening disease aside, smoking can start a domino effect of minor oral problems, including tooth stains, oral lesions, bad breath and black hairy tongue. Especially harmful to your gums, tobacco can also cause your gums to recede, increase your risk of gum disease and delay your gums' ability to heal.

So if you smoke, it's critical that you stop.

Reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke or switching to low-tar cigarettes won't do much to reduce the health risks, according to public health officials.

Talk to your dentist or physician about the most successful methods for quitting.

Baby Talk

Children's teeth -- especially baby teeth -- are vulnerable to tooth decay, so it's important that you establish good habits early on.

The most common bad habit among parents is putting a baby to bed with a bottle of juice or formula. It may taste good to your baby, but drinks like these contain high amounts of sugar; and when the sugar sticks to your child's teeth, cavities can form fast.

This is a preventable condition known as baby bottle tooth decay. If you haven't started the habit yet, that's good news. But if you have, here's a tip:

Start weaning your baby by diluting the juice or formula with water. Each time you put your baby down for a nap or bedtime, dilute the bottle more and more until it contains just water.

When your child starts brushing teeth, it's important to show your child that just a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is necessary. Children are prone to mimicking what they see on TV -- a toothbrush covered with gobs of toothpaste. But using too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, which appears as white or brown spots on your child's teeth.

It's never too late to improve your dental health. Call us at 1-866-970-0441 to find the right dentist for you!

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