5 Habits That Can Harm Your Teeth

It may seem difficult or tedious to continuously care for your oral hygiene: ensuring that you brush and floss daily, watch how much sugar is in your meals, not to miss any dental appointments – it can all be a little too much.

But a really important part of making sure that your teeth are, and remain healthy for a long time, is to make sure that you don’t develop any habits that may be harmful to your teeth or overall oral health.

Almost 20% of people aged 65 and older have actually lost all their teeth (1). Despite the fact that you may have great oral hygiene and take excellent care of your teeth, your teeth may still be at a risk of damage if you have unknowingly developed one or all of these harmful habits.

5 Habits That Can Harm Your Teeth

1. Chewing ice-cubes

This is quite a common habit with many people as there seems to be a joy in crushing and eating the ice cubes left over from your iced drink.

Though seemingly harmless, ice cubes are quite hard, and similar to chewing pens, hard candy, and other hard surfaces, can be harmful to your teeth.

A study found that approximately 38-48% of people who suffered from “cracked teeth” had the unhealthy habit of chewing on ice cubes or other similar hard substances (2).

Though your teeth may not undergo a complete fracture immediately once you have chewed on an ice cube, the brittleness, hardness and coldness of ice can cause tiny cracks to form within your teeth.

Over time, these cracks can become bigger and more profound until eventually your tooth might fracture and break.

Over a long time this habit is extremely bad for your teeth and can cause many problems. So next time you’re having a drink with ice in it, remember to not to chew on any of the ice.

2. Nail biting

Mostly common with teenagers, (approximately 45% of teenagers are nail biters (3)), nail biting is a very common long-term bad habit for your teeth.

It’s usually associated with stress and feeling nervous, and so for many people it’s quite a difficult habit to stop.

Nail biting can cause small chips and fracture lines to develop within your teeth, and over time these can eventually cause a complete fracture of a tooth. Continuously biting on your nails for a long time concentrates a lot of force on one spot and can cause a fracture in a tooth.

Nail biting is specifically harmful to dental restorations such as fillings, crowns and veneers, and can fracture these materials too.

Another very important condition that nail biting can cause, is pain and dysfunction in the jaw. A study found that around 24% of nail biters actually complained of TMJ and jaw pain (4).

If you do have a habit of excessive nail biting, it’s worth it to try and make yourself more conscious regarding this habit, and try to limit it, as it’s a very bad for your teeth.

3. Frequent snacking

Though we’re all aware that a high sugar diet can increase your risk of developing tooth decay, another very important thing to keep note of is that the amount of times you expose your teeth to sugar also has a strong link to the formation of teeth cavities.

When you eat, the level of acidity in your mouth increases. During this time, bacteria in your teeth can produce an acid that directly attacks your teeth and eventually leads to a cavity.

If nothing is done about it, this level of acidity can last in your mouth for up to 20 minutes after having a meal or a snack (4). During this time your teeth are vulnerable to being damaged.

If you have 3 meals a day, then this acidity will occur only three times a day, but if you have many snacks throughout the whole day, then this acidity can happen many times in a single day. This increases the time of acidity and exposure of your teeth to harmful bacteria.

One study discovered that children who had sweet snacks such as chocolate more than 4 times during a day were 20 times more likely to develop tooth caries! (5).

In this sense it’s quite important to not have frequent snacks throughout the day.

If you do have many frequent snacks throughout the day, try to gently brush your teeth after snacking, drinking water after each snack to rinse out the acidity, and try to minimize the sugar content in your snack as much as possible.

4. Using your teeth to open things

Don’t use your teeth as tools. It’s quite painful to see somebody using their teeth as tools, tearing through packages or opening bottles.

Your teeth have various functions, but using them as tools is definitely not one of them. Though your teeth may seem hard and your bite strong enough, this habit can cause a lot of damage and injury to your teeth and oral health.

Don’t open things (such as bottles) with your teeth. Don’t use your teeth as scissors. Don’t try to carry things with your teeth, especially heavy things. Similar to chewing on ice, don’t chew on things that are not food as it can injure your teeth.

It’s very important to treat your teeth as a sensitive part of your body, and to try to limit their contact with harmful substances.

5. Brushing too hard or frequently

Many people brush their teeth when they are in a rush, our out of habit, just brush their teeth extremely quickly in order to get it done with.

Brushing teeth too aggressive or quickly can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums including tooth abrasion (6), gum recession, and eventually sensitivity.

Tooth abrasion is the result of over brushing your teeth. It’s usually associated with teeth sensitivity and is most commonly the result of people brushing too frequently or too aggressively.

In order to avoid this problem, try using a toothbrush with soft bristles, and use gentle brushing strokes.

Unless you have a dental condition or have many frequent meals, ideally you should be brushing your teeth twice a day, and spending around 2 full minutes brushing your teeth (7).

You may think that spending more time on brushing your teeth may be beneficial, but it can cause more damage than good. Therefore 2 minutes of tooth-brushing is perfectly fine.

Written by Dr. Khaled Mahmoud

Khaled Mahmoud completed his dental education and obtained his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2017. His interests lie in cosmetic dentistry and non-surgical facial aesthetics. He is active in dental research, contemporary cosmetic materials and techniques, and has been a member of numerous public health outreach programs.