20 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Teeth
Reaching for a toothpick
While those old-school sticks can certainly come in handy when food gets stuck between your teeth at a restaurant on date night (or when a fictional tough guy needs to look cool), the truth is that wooden toothpicks are poor substitutes for dental floss: They can splinter and break, and using them too aggressively can cause damage to sensitive gum tissue. Take a pick if you’re in dire need (or if you’re in an action movie), but know that they’re far better suited to an hors d’oeuvres tray than they are to your mouth.
but I prefer patients to be in front of a mirror, over the sink; you can be sure to hit all the surfaces of your teeth, and you’ll do a more thorough job when you’re not distracted.- Dr. Newgard
Multitasking while you brush
Every minute in the morning feels precious, so it’s tempting to brush your teeth in the shower or while scrolling through your Twitter feed. Better to leave the bathroom a few minutes later having given proper attention to each step of your prep.
Overcleaning your toothbrush
Thinking about running your brush through the dishwasher or zapping it in the microwave to disinfect it? Think again: While we’ve all seen those stories about toothbrushes harboring gross bacteria, the CDC says there’s no evidence that anyone has ever gotten sick from their own toothbrush. Just give your brush a good rinse with regular old tap water, let it air-dry, and store it upright where it’s not touching anyone else’s brush. More drastic cleaning measures may damage your brush, the CDC notes, which defeats its purpose.
I’ve heard of patients who go on Pinterest and find ways to whiten their teeth there—by swishing with straight peroxide, for example—which are not good for their teeth- Dr. Newgard
Using social media as your dentist
The web is full of DIY dental tips that can hurt much more than they’ll help. Read our lips: Don’t even go there. Another online tip to skip: trying to close up a gap in your teeth with DIY rubber band braces.
Storing your wet toothbrush in a travel case
While you should use a cover or case during transport, make sure you take your toothbrush out and allow it to air dry when you reach your destination.- Dr. Lee
It’s important to stow your brush somewhere sanitary before you tuck it into your luggage for a trip—and equally important to set it free once you unpack. No stand-up holder in your hotel room? If you’ve got a cup for drinking water, that’ll do just fine.
Skipping dentist appointments
Hate sitting in the dentist’s chair? The very best trick for short-circuiting anxiety about going to the dentist is—surprise—going to the dentist. “If you’re in every six months for your checkups, you’re less likely to run into problems.” Moreover, dentists are beginning to employ everything from serene, spa-like settings to animal-assisted therapy (that is, a gentle dog who sits beside you at your appointment) to alleviate patient discomfort; you can find a dental practice in your comfort zone.
Not drinking enough water
If your part of the country fluoridates its water, you’re in luck: The simple act of sipping tap water can help strengthen your teeth. Some bottled waters have fluoride, and some don’t; if it’s not listed as an ingredient in the one you favor. Swishing with and drinking water is also an important way to rinse accumulated sugars and acids from your teeth.
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Skimping on calcium and vitamin D
Minerals and vitamins are building blocks for bones and teeth, of course, but they’re also key to maintaining their strength and density as we age—and these two are bones’ strongest allies. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, adult women need 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium and 400-1,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day from food, sunlight (for vitamin D) and supplements. Consult your GP on your nutrient needs and be sure your teeth and bones are getting the support they need.
Using a brush that’s too hard
Like wooden toothpicks, hard-bristled brushes are tough-looking instruments that tend to cause more problems than they solve. Effective as they might seem, “harder bristles can erode your enamel,” Dr. Lee says. “I only recommend soft or extra-soft toothbrushes.” Research indicates that your gums will suffer from tough brushes as well: A 2011 study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that while hard-bristled toothbrushes removed plaque, they were also more likely than softer brushes to cause gingivitis and tissue damage. Ouch!
Drinking soda (yes, even the diet stuff)
Isn’t it enough to kick sugar to the curb and indulge in sodas without it? We won’t go so far as to say it’s as bad for your teeth as meth addiction, as a report (on one subject who drank two liters of soda per day and already had poor dental hygiene) did in 2013. But you should know that all acidic drinks—regular sodas, diet sodas, even sports drinks, according to a 2008 study—can cause tooth erosion. Does that mean giving them up once and for all? Indulging ourselves doesn’t always mean doing what’s best for your teeth, of course, but knowing how habits affect your body is the first step in being happy and healthy. We’ll raise a glass of (fluoridated) tap water to that.
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