Weapons of mouth destruction?
“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 eat
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.
Medication which causes dry mouth
The solution isn’t to stop your medication, unless your doctor can offer an alternative without that side effect. Instead, try sipping water throughout the day. You can increase saliva flow with sugarless gum, mints containing xylitol, or sprays, gels and tablets designed specifically for dry mouth. These natural remedies for dry mouth may also provide the relief you're looking for.
Exercising without dental protection
“When you don’t wear a mouthguard, you see teeth chipping or being knocked out—damage that requires a lot of work to repair,” says Parhar, who has a background in sports dentistry.
Intense exercise may also affect the quantity and quality of your saliva. A 2015 study of triathletes in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports showed that when the athletes were active, their saliva flow slowed down while pH went up. Both changes can have a negative impact on teeth, which suggests that anyone active in sports should practice meticulous oral hygiene and seek regular dental care. Learn which sport could be hurting your child's brain development if he plays it before age 12.
Drinking lemon water
She became concerned, though, after a relative—also a fan of the drink—discovered it was weakening her tooth enamel, so Peets checked with her dental hygienist. Lemon water may be a popular trend, but acidic fruit juice is a major culprit when it comes to dental erosion from diet. “Even though you’re diluting lemon juice with water, you’re still raising the acid level of the mouth. If you sip, and you’re doing that two or three times throughout the day over a prolonged period of time, I’d be concerned,” says Cool.
Peets’s hygienist warned her to delay brushing right away after consuming lemon water, and also recommended trying toothpaste for sensitive teeth and brushing less forcefully. (Here are some more tips for people with sensitive teeth.) Drinking quickly is not a full fix, but it’s much better than sipping the tart mixture at length; using a straw may also lessen detrimental effects. Check that the water isn’t too hot, as warmer temperatures intensify the tooth damage. If you’re going to drink the acidic beverage, Cool suggests having a drink of plain, ordinary water soon afterwards. Unless you're at a restaurant, in which case you might want to avoid lemon water altogether—Here's why.
Chewing on ice
“I’ve got a few ice chewers in my practice, and I’m always encouraging them to break that habit. You just don’t want to crunch hard things,” says Cool. “The enamel is probably the hardest tissue in our bodies, but when there’s chronic wear and tear, there’s an increased chance that it can flatten the contours of the teeth.” Sometimes the wear is severe enough to change the way the bite fits together, triggering pain in jaw muscles. She says ice can be nice, but only if you let it melt in your mouth.
Sipping wine slowly
It’s similar to the problem with lemon water. “Sipping wine means an exposure to acid every time a sip is taken,” van Drie says. That’s not to say you should chug-a-lug, but do drink water when you’re having a glass of wine, or nibble on a piece of cheese to buffer the acid. And note that not all wines pose the same problems for your teeth. “White wine has a higher pH and causes more and faster damage,” says van Drie. On the other hand, red can stain your pearly whites. (Fortunately, there's an easy way to remove red wine stains.) Thinking of switching to carbonated water instead? “Sparkling water is also acidic and can harm teeth when drunk constantly.”
Opting for spring water
Fluoridated tap water is endorsed by health organizations such as the World Health Organization. It’s well proven to reduce tooth decay in both children and adults; it’s cost-effective; and it’s safe (levels are low and monitored, and it’s impossible to drink enough tap water to reach fluoride toxicity).
“When you drink fluoridated water, it gets into your system, so your saliva has a low level of fluoride in it that’s constantly benefiting your teeth,” says Swan. It’s especially protective for older people with exposed root surface that’s more vulnerable to decay.
Try to drink at least some tap water every day. You can use filters, as long as they’re not the type that removes fluoride. If you’re in a rural area, have your water tested to find out its mineral composition and then adjust as needed.
Next, learn the best foods to eat for stronger, whiter teeth.