Please choose a language

Pay My Bill

We are a full-service, family-centered, primary care facility providing quality, affordable, accessible health care.

Make a difference Donate

Looking for a doctor? Click Here

Patient Portal Click Here

Bad Habits That Can Lead To Bad Teeth

Are you guilty of a bad habit that can lead to dental problems? Dr. John Palm, dentist and Medical Director of Keystone Dental Care, shares some of the things people do every day that can send them to the dental office.

Chewing Ice

Chewing on a chunk of ice puts tremendous strain on the crystal structure of your teeth. The hardness and cold temperature of ice can actually cause teeth to fracture. It can cause microscopic cracks in enamel, which can lead to bigger cracks over time. Teeth with large fillings are especially vulnerable, and large pieces of tooth may eventually break away. In some cases, a tooth may split in half and be impossible to save. Other culprits are popcorn kernels, sunflower seed shells and the pits of fruit such as cherries, peaches and plums, which can also put undue stress on a tooth and cause it to fracture. Some people put these in their mouths to suck on and then crunch on. Avoid these practices when you eat or drink.

The solution: Drink chilled beverages without ice, or use a straw if you must use ice. The risk of chewing ice is greater than any pleasure that comes from chewing it. Another option is letting ice slivers melt in your mouth. This may help satisfy the need to crunch down. Also, when eating snacks, eat something that’s healthier and softer to chew, such as small tender pieces of baby carrots, broccoli, apples, celery and other fresh fruits and vegetables. If you feel the need to chew on something, try sugar-free gum. It will keep your breath fresh and is much gentler on teeth. Research has shown that chewing gum sweetened with 100% xylitol helps prevent tooth decay. Xylitol inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause cavities.

Using Teeth As Tools

People often do not recognize the dangers of using their teeth to open things. Your teeth were made for eating, not as a substitute for scissors or holding things when your hands are full. Do not use your teeth to crack open nuts or shellfish, as the shells are like sandpaper on your teeth. When you do this, you put yourself at a higher risk of cracking your teeth, injuring your jaw or accidentally swallowing something you shouldn’t. Some people use their teeth to uncap a bottle, pull out a watch stem, or rip a price tag off a piece of clothing. This can be hard on your teeth, traumatizing them or causing the edge of a weakened tooth to chip off. Using your teeth to grasp objects like these can cause malocclusion (poor jaw alignment), and wear down your teeth unevenly. Malocclusion can lead to a type of jaw pain known as TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder).

The solution: Stop and find something or someone to give you a hand. Think about what you’re putting in your mouth before you use your teeth as tools. Take a few seconds to get a bottle opener or nutcracker and save your teeth for their intended use.

Snacking And Sipping Sugary Drinks Throughout The Day

Frequent snacking on carbohydrate-containing foods can be an invitation to tooth decay. When you eat, the bacteria convert the sugar and starch that remain in the mouth to acid, and that attacks tooth enamel. The longer sugars are retained in your mouth, the longer the acids attack. Sipping sugary drinks throughout the day is another bad habit. The constant exposure to sweet and acidic beverages can foster tooth decay. When you eat, your saliva is breaking down the sugars that are in your foods and drinks. Your saliva is also working to protect your tooth enamel by providing the proper minerals to coat the surface of your teeth. If you’re snacking all day, you’re never giving your saliva enough time to protect your smile.

The solution: Eat balanced meals to feel fuller, longer. When you’re constantly snacking throughout the day, you’re most likely snacking on foods that aren’t so good for your diet or your teeth. And since you’re snacking on smaller portions of food, you’re more likely to be hungrier throughout the day, causing you to eat more and more. If you need a snack, make sure it’s low in fat and sugar. If you indulge in the occasional sugary treat, follow it with a big glass of water to wash away leftover food. Sip sweetened drinks through a straw to minimize sugar and acid exposure to your teeth. Be sure the straw is positioned toward the back of the mouth, not resting against your teeth. Drink water throughout the day. Water naturally rinses your teeth and washes away food particles and acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth. It helps to decrease the pH level in your mouth and helps alleviate the symptoms of dry mouth.

Biting Your Nails

Many people don’t realize this habit can cause your teeth to chip. Sometimes, when biting through a nail, the teeth hit together pretty hard which could cause damage. Repeated flexing of your teeth’s enamel occurs when you bite your nails and this can cause the enamel to fracture.

The solution: Keep in mind that biting your nails can lead to problems. While it may be a hard habit to break, it is worth it and your mouth will thank you. Next time you want to bite your nails, ask yourself if it is worth the dental problems that could accompany it.

Smoking And Chewing Tobacco

In addition to a long list of negative cosmetic effects including a reduced sense of smell and taste, bad breath and a receding gum line, tobacco use is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Smoking can also lead to a delayed healing process following mouth and throat surgery and an increased risk of oral cancer. This hard-to-quit habit can increase your chances of developing a life-threatening illness, but the good news is that whether you’ve been a smoker for one year or for ten, quitting can quickly lower your risk of developing oral cancer, lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and painful lesions in the mouth that do not heal. Are smokeless tobacco products safer? No. Like cigars and cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products contain many chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of oral cancer and cancer of the throat and esophagus. In fact, chewing tobacco contains higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes, making it harder to quit than cigarettes. Electronic nicotine delivery systems such as e-cigarettes and vape pens have also been known to cause oral health problems. One harmful effect is that nicotine inhalation inhibits your ability to produce saliva, which can leave you susceptible to bacteria buildup, dry mouth and tooth decay. Nicotine may contribute to dry mouth by reducing blood flow to the salivary glands. Propylene glycol, an ingredient in some e-liquids, can extract water from your mouth and cause dry mouth as well.

The solution: If you’re looking for another reason to quit, the threat of a missing tooth might persuade you to pass on purchasing your next pack. To stop using tobacco, your dentist or doctor may be able to help you calm nicotine cravings with medications, such as nicotine gum and patches. Some of these products can be purchased over the counter; others require a prescription. Smoking cessation classes and support groups are often used in combination with drug therapy. These programs are offered through local groups in the community and sometimes through your employer or health insurance company. Counseling and medication together has often been found to be more effective than using either one alone. Ask your doctor or dentist for information on programs they may be familiar with.

Brushing Too Hard Or Using A Hard Toothbrush

Some people think the firmer the brush, the better. This isn’t so. Vigorous brushing can wear down the outer surface of the teeth, making them more vulnerable to decay. Continuously brushing vigorously can also lead to receding gums. When your gum line recedes, the roots of your teeth are exposed. They are sensitive and susceptible to infection when left unprotected. If it goes untreated, the supporting tissue and bone structures become damaged which could lead to periodontal disease. Unfortunately, receding gums do not grow back and exposed root surfaces often lead to decay. You can talk to your dentist or periodontist about the treatments available to correct the issue and prevent it from getting worse. The people most at risk for tooth or gum damage from over brushing are those who are particularly diligent about their oral care and those who use medium- or hard-bristled toothbrushes. In cases of severe toothbrush abrasion, your dentist may be able to fill in the grooves with bonding material.

The solution: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with the American Dental Association seal of acceptance. Plaque is soft, so use a gentle massaging pressure and save the hard toothbrush for cleaning the grout in the bathroom tile. Place the head of your toothbrush with the tips of the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline when brushing. Move the toothbrush with short strokes with bristles directed toward the gums. Use small circular motions performing the plaque removal. Don’t saw back and forth across the teeth. You shouldn’t be forcefully pushing the bristles against your teeth until they bend. Brushing for two minutes twice a day is one of the best habits you can get into. Brushing regularly is considered vital for healthy teeth and gums. Ask your dentist or hygienist what toothbrush might be best to maintain your dental health. Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if it shows signs of wear. If your toothbrush looks frayed, this can be a sign that you are brushing too hard or that it needs to be replaced. Don’t forget to floss every day, as this is critical to removing bacteria and plaque between your teeth, where even the best brushing can’t reach.


This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.