1. Barbecue Sauce
Sad but true. Most barbecue sauces feature the enamel-attacking combination of tons of sugar and a sticky consistency. While you focus on enjoying your burger, that sauce is busy sticking to your teeth like napalm.
Well, maybe that analogy is a bit over the top, but the fact remains that sugar intake is directly linked to tooth decay—and barbecue sauce is thick with sugar. If you can’t stand the thought of a summer without a bit of Maull’s, just be sure to brush after you indulge.
Some dentists even recommend coating your teeth with a healthy coating of Vaseline before you down that hot dog. That sounds awfully gross to us, but maybe this is a good time to point out that we are not dentists.
Like, at all. If you’re really worried about keeping your teeth bright and healthy, don’t forget to talk to an actual medical professional about your concerns.
2. Tongue Piercings
The ‘90s are going to be so disappointed. Tongue, lip, and cheek piercings can actually wreak havoc on your pearly whites.
The Canadian Dental Association even offers a grisly run-down of the oral “complications” these trinkets can cause.
These include “tooth abrasion,” which is basically like rubbing your teeth down with sandpaper on a more-or-less constant basis. “Tooth fracture” also makes the list—that one’s self-explanatory. So does “periodontitis,” a terrifying infection of the gums that can actually damage the bones that hold onto your teeth.
Add to these risks a heightened chance of nerve damage, infection, and, somehow, “multiple brain abscesses,” and you’ve got all the data you need to convince your teenage daughter to rethink her next big fashion statement. Oh, and if she tries to explain that “danger” and coolness go hand in hand, you can always show her the pictures. Those are pretty convincing.
3. Opening Things with Your Teeth
Your teeth are great for chewing food, but they’re not great for opening packages, tearing paper, or any of the other things you’re probably doing with them.
Opening items with your teeth can cause chips or breaks, which are painful and expensive. You’re also endangering your dental work—in most cases, crowns and fillings aren’t as hardy as your natural teeth, so they’re the first things to go.
Avoid this habit by reaching for the appropriate tools when you need to open things. Sure, it takes a few extra seconds, but that’s nothing compared to the pain of a broken tooth.
4. Brushing Your Teeth
Well, brushing too hard. Dentists frequently see something called “toothbrush abrasion,” which isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. Vigorous brushing pushes back the gums, allowing gum disease to take root, and the practice also wears down on tooth enamel.
Dentists recommend using your forefinger and thumb to hold your toothbrush. This will prevent you from pressing too hard, although you should also make sure that you’re using a soft-bristled brush—you can easily get rid of plaque with softer bristles.
5. Brushing at the Wrong Time
What do you do when you’re finished with a meal? If you immediately brush your teeth, you could be doing damage.
Immediately after you’ve eaten, your mouth is full of acids from the food and your saliva. By brushing right away, you could be wearing down the enamel of your teeth. You can avoid this effect by simply rinsing your mouth thoroughly with water before you start brushing.
6. Sucking Your Thumb
Granted, most people outgrow thumb-sucking habits in early childhood, but some don’t. That’s a big issue, since thumb-sucking can affect the growth of a child’s natural teeth, altering their alignment and changing the roof of the mouth.
As the American Dental Association notes, “aggressive” thumbsuckers are most at risk, as they often develop issues with their baby teeth that carries through to their adult teeth. As anxiety sometimes causes this habit, parents should pay close attention to potential triggers and praise their children for not engaging in thumb-sucking.
Well, lemons and other citrus fruits. They contain large amounts of citric acid, which can wear down on your tooth enamel. Lemons also have sugar, which can enhance the effect.
Dentists say that an occasional glass of lemon water isn’t likely to be harmful. However, sucking on raw fruit—or using them to try to purposely whiten your teeth—can damage your enamel and increase your chances of tooth decay. Avoid sucking on lemons regularly, and if you eat any citrus fruit, rinse your mouth out with some water before going about your day.
8. Ice Cubes
As your dentist will note, your blender has trouble crushing ice, and it’s a motorized device specifically built to handle the task. Why would our teeth do a better job?
People often chew ice to lose weight or to stop bad habits, but it’s not a great strategy; the American Dental Association notes that in the summer, “dentists’ offices are crowded with patients suffering from gum injuries and broken teeth” as a result of ice chewing. As an alternative, consider chewing baby carrots or apple chunks.
9. Biting Your Nails
Sure, it’s a disgusting habit, but it’s also potentially dangerous. Biting your nails can chip your teeth and damage dental work.
People who bite their nails are also at a greater risk of bruxism, which is caused by excessive teeth grinding. That condition can cause flat teeth, clicking jaws, tongue indentations, pain, and tooth damage—not fun. It’s often caused by stress, and if you chew anything, you’re at risk, particularly if you chew pens, pencils, or other hard objects (and yes, your fingernails definitely count).
If you’ve got this habit, try to break it on your own, but speak with your dentist if you’re having trouble. Be conscious of your nail biting when you’re anxious or stressed and try to find other ways to handle those emotions (for instance, try meditating in an open field while listening to Enya).
If you grind your teeth while sleeping, you should also look into special mouth guards to prevent tooth damage.
10. Frequent Snacking
By all means, enjoy the occasional snack—preferably something healthy and low in sugar. But if you snack too frequently, your mouth will bite back, if you’ll pardon the expression.
That’s because frequent snacking causes your mouth to maintain high acidity levels. You’ll continuously produce saliva to break down your food, which can wreak havoc on your enamel. Eventually, this can lead to cavities, even if you’re eating low-sugar foods.
As with other items on this list, there’s a simple way to diminish your risk: Cleanse your mouth by swishing around some water after each snack. Drinking a few glasses of water can also decrease your appetite, reducing your urge to snack in the first place. If you feel like you need to be chewing on something, dentists recommend sugar-free gum, which has been shown to help prevent tooth decay.
You should also try to pick low-sugar foods for when you do snack. The more sugary the snack, the greater the need for rinsing and brushing when you’re finished.
11. Dried Fruit
For years, we’ve been patting ourselves on the back for picking raisins over Starbursts. Unfortunately, it turns out that nothing is that simple.
Don’t get us wrong. Most dried fruit is packed with fiber and nutrients. It has more than earned its reputation for being a healthy snack. But what’s good for your guts isn’t always good for your gums. The non-cellulose fiber in dried fruit is packed with sugars. It also tends to stick to your teeth for hours.
The result is like tying a sugar cube to your molars. That’s just asking for tooth decay. Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Just brush your teeth after you enjoy your fruit-filled trail mix. (Don’t forget to rinse thoroughly with water first, as we’ve discussed).
The momentary contact with natural sugars as you chew isn’t really the problem; it’s the long-term exposure from the bits that stick to your teeth that you have to worry about. Get the gunk off and your teeth will be safe (from dried fruit, at the very least).