Weapons of mouth destruction?
I’ve always been diligent about brushing my teeth at least twice a day. Who doesn’t love a minty-fresh, picture-perfect smile? But six or seven years ago, I learned that my technique was sorely lacking. I tended to rush through the job, scrubbing furiously, and after decades of overly vigorous cleaning, my teeth had developed an uncomfortable sensitivity to heat and cold. My dental hygienist explained that the enamel, or protective layer, was wearing thin and exposing the more sensitive dentine underneath. Among her suggestions: brush gently up and down rather than aggressively, and take your time—at least two minutes.
“It’s a very typical example,” says Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association. “A patient is proud of the fact that they’re brushing so hard, but they’re damaging their teeth.” These are some more ways you’ve been brushing your teeth all wrong.
When we first develop habits to improve our well-being, we aren’t always aware of the problems they could cause for our pearly whites. “Teeth tend to be a lower priority in terms of health, so some things tend to get missed,” says Dr. Mark Parhar, an endodontist in British Columbia, Canada, who specializes in the soft inner tissues of the teeth. Here are seven healthy practices that could be trashing your teeth—and how to stop the damage.
Brushing after you eatbugsbunny12/Shutterstock
Does your morning routine include grabbing a toothbrush immediately after breakfast? Kudos to you for brushing regularly, but your timing needs tweaking. When you consume something acidic, like oranges or tomatoes, the enamel temporarily softens and becomes susceptible to abrasive wear. If you brush your teeth, especially forcefully, you can remove enamel, which will leave your chompers feeling sensitive. It gets worse as you get older, since your gums tend to recede with age and expose more root surface. (Tooth roots aren’t covered by enamel, but rather a thinner layer of a substance called cementum.)
If you want to exercise caution, wait approximately 30 minutes to brush. “Saliva is a buffering agent and will bring the acidity of the oral environment down, but it takes time,” says Gerry (Geraldine) Cool, a dental hygienist in Alberta, Canada and the president of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Eating some types of dairy, especially cheddar cheese, can raise the pH inside the mouth and release calcium and other substances that fight plaque; and rinsing your mouth with water can help wash away debris wedged between teeth. You can also brush before eating something acidic instead of after—or, try this surprising way to keep your teeth clean without brushing.