Common Habits That Secretly Drive Your Dentist Crazy

Visiting the dentist can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re susceptible to gum disease or cavities. While we all know the basic things that drive dentists crazy– like hardly ever flossing– there are some lesser-known habits that may be cause for concern. For instance, whitening your teeth too frequently or brushing right after coffee may negatively impact your enamel. Did you know that it also may be a good idea to quit chewing ice and avoid tongue piercings? You’ll be surprised how many common habits leave your dentist shaking their head in disapproval.

Brushing Your Teeth Right After Drinking Coffee

A woman drinks a cup of coffee.
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images
Yelena AfoninaTASS via Getty Images

For many of us, it’s hard to imagine getting out of bed without a cup of coffee. If the first part of your morning routine is chugging a cup of joe, you may be putting your tooth enamel at risk when you brush your teeth.

The acidity in coffee can eat away at your tooth enamel, especially if you brush your teeth right after. Instead, brush your teeth before drinking coffee and then drink plenty of water to remove lingering acidity. If you’re worried about having coffee breath all day, then wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.

Using Your Nails To Get Food Out Of Your Teeth

An athlete picks at his teeth.
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

We’ve all been there. You take a massive bite out of an apple, and the skin gets lodged in your teeth. For many of us, we can’t help but stick a nail in between our teeth to dig out the unwelcome food particle.

Dentist Henry Hackney warns that biting your nails or using them to get something out can cause a piece of the nail to get stuck in your teeth. This can lead to food particles becoming more stuck, causing a permanent gap! To avoid making the situation worse, stick to floss.

Eating Before A Cleaning

A woman eats a fish sandwich.
Markus Scholz/picture alliance via Getty Images
Markus Scholz/picture alliance via Getty Images

For some dental procedures, you will be asked not to eat or drink beforehand. For basic cleanings, you technically can eat anything you want before coming in, but dentists would prefer you didn’t.

The reason why is that they will have to take the time to remove food particles in order to check for cavities. While it may seem redundant, brushing your teeth before heading to the dentist makes their job easier and more efficient.

Using Whitening Strips Too Often

A package of Crest Whitestrips is pictured.
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

While whitening products can be beneficial for the appearance of your teeth, they aren’t the best for your teeth’s health. Dentist and enamel consultant Daniel Naysan warns that the hydrogen peroxide found in whitening products can damage dentin tissue, which is found beneath the enamel.

Since many of the items that stain your enamel also damage it, it’s all the more likely that the outer protective layer can become penetrated by the hydrogen peroxide. To play it safe, don’t use whitening products more than once a week.

Ignoring Your Acid Reflux

A man places his hand on his chest in pain.
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Acid reflux is so uncomfortable that you probably don’t want to ignore it purely because of how it feels. But another reason to take the condition seriously is that it can impact your teeth.

The stomach acid that rises can end up in your mouth, tearing away at the enamel of your molars and behind your front teeth. Dentists recommend treating your acid reflux as soon as possible, and chewing gum to induce saliva production.

Using Your Teeth As Tools

An athlete uses his teeth to tear tape.
Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Though your teeth are specially-shaped to rip and grind things, it’s important to remember that this usage stops at food. If there’s a package or bottle you can’t get open, rely on scissors, not your teeth, to get the job done.

Likewise, you shouldn’t use your teeth to rip tape or carry something when your hands are full. As much as we’d like to think our teeth are indestructible, they aren’t. Using them as tools can put you at risk of chipping or otherwise damaging your pearly whites.

Chewing On Ice Cubes

A runner chews on ice.
Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Chewing on ice cubes may seem like a harmless way to appease your oral fixation, but it isn’t great for your teeth. Since ice cubes melt, it can be easy to underestimate how hard they are.

Biting them can cause teeth and fillings to break, harm enamel, and wear out your jaw. Since the coldness numbs your mouth, you may not even realize how abrasive the cubes are as you chew them. Additionally, the habit can increase your dental sensitivity.

Eating Starchy Carbs Throughout The Day

A woman eats a bagel.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

If you love carbs, you may want to pump the brakes for the sake of your teeth. Dentist Caitlin Batchelor warns that starchy foods tend to stick to teeth, resulting in bits lingering in your mouth all day.

She also states that those who snack throughout the day are repeatedly bathing their teeth in acid. Snacking on foods like crackers every couple of hours could be the hidden culprit for your frequent cavities and dental decay.

Getting A Piercing In Or Near Your Mouth

A woman has a piercing at the corner of her mouth.
PYMCA/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PYMCA/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While piercings can be a fashionable form of self-expression, you may want to think twice before getting one near your mouth. Tongue, cheek, and lip piercings come into contact with your teeth and gums, which can cause damage or irritation.

These piercing can even impact the tissues in your mouth and can alter your sense of taste. To play it safe, stick with facial piercings that are further from your mouth, such as the nose or eyebrows.

Grinding Your Teeth In Your Sleep

A girl grinds her teeth.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you wake up with a tight jaw and pain in your temples, it’s possible that you were grinding your teeth while asleep. The subconscious habit is often related to nerves or stress, and can be hard to control when you aren’t doing it on purpose.

A good test is to open your mouth wide in the morning to see if there’s any pain in your jaw. If you are grinding your teeth frequently, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard to prevent enamel damage.

Sleeping With Your Mouth Open

A man sleeps with an open mouth.
Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images
Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

If you’re someone who snores or has a stuffy nose when you lie down to sleep, you may be unintentionally compromising the health of your mouth. Periodontist Sharona Dayan says that breathing through your mouth dries out your oral tissues.

The result is a higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay. That’s why it’s important to identify the underlying issue and address it so you don’t have to rely on mouth-breathing as often. Likewise, try to avoid the habit during the day whenever possible.

Drinking Carbonated Drinks All The Time

A woman drinks a can of Coca-Cola.
NUTAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
NUTAN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

If you’re trying to wean yourself off soda, carbonated water can be a wonderful switch. However, your dentist will be able to tell if it’s all you drink. That’s because the acid found in carbonated drinks can eat away at your tooth enamel.

Without enamel, your teeth can become much more sensitive, causing breakage and pain. To prevent enamel erosion, try to stick to regular water as often as possible, and limit your carbonated drink intake.

Squeezing Lemon In Your Water

A woman drinks lemon water.
Susann Prautsch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Susann Prautsch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Drinking lemon water can be beneficial for other parts of the body, like your digestion, but it isn’t the best for your teeth. Similar to carbonated drinks, citrus fruits can wreak havoc on your tooth enamel due to their high acidity.

Since there’s plenty of advantages to eating citrus fruits whole, it’s best to cut back on things like lemon water that don’t have as much of a health benefit. Instead, try flavoring your water with something lower in acidity, like cucumber or mint.

Brushing Your Teeth Too Hard

A child brushes their teeth.
Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images
Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

When brushing your teeth, harder isn’t always better. While it’s important to thoroughly clean your teeth to remove any food particles, you don’t want to be so aggressive that you damage the enamel. Pediatric dentist Adam Silevitch warns that using a hard-bristled toothbrush and scrubbing too vigorously can be destructive to both your tooth enamel and gums.

Instead, stick with a soft to medium brush and get those hard-to-reach particles out with floss. So long as you stick to your dentists’ recommended oral care plan, there’s no reason to overdo it on the brushing.

Chewing Gum That Isn’t Sugar-Free

A woman blows a big bubble with her chewing gum.
Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

While sugar-free gum can have positive impacts on your teeth, gum that contains sugar has the exact opposite effect. Since harmful bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar, chewing that kind of gum can lead to bacteria-induced tooth decay.

Worst of all, gum lasts for quite some time, especially if you do it more for the habit than the flavor. Keeping a steady supply of sugar in your mouth for hours provides bacteria with all they need to wreak havoc on your oral health.

Using Cough Drops That Contain Sugar

Cough drops are laid out on the floor.
Esther Merbt/Pixabay
Esther Merbt/Pixabay

Cough drops are a staple in many households, especially around cold season. While they can be a tasty relief, it may be worth opting for the sugar-free versions. Like gum, cough drops remain in your mouth for an extended amount of time.

This gives bacteria in your mouth plenty of time to feast on the sugar, increasing your risk of tooth enamel damage. Unlike candy, cough drops can be seen as healthy and are therefore easier to overdo it on, especially if they’re providing relief.

Not Replacing Your Toothbrush Often Enough

Water spills onto a toothbrush.
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

If you’re brushing your teeth twice a day and still don’t feel like they aren’t clean, it could be that your toothbrush is worn out. As you use your toothbrush over and over again, the bristles wear down and fray to the side.

This can prevent the bristles from getting in between your teeth or into molar crevices where food particles often get stuck. While flossing can help mitigate the problem, it’s important to be sure that you’re getting the best clean possible.

Playing Sports Without A Mouth Guard

An athlete chews on his mouth guard.
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Fighting sports, like boxing and mixed martial arts, aren’t the only ones that require a mouthguard. There are plenty of other activities that require a mouthguard to protect your teeth from things like hockey pucks, or simply to protect you in the event of a body collision.

This is vital because teeth can break as a result of high impact. The guard creates a cushion that absorbs some of the impact so your teeth don’t have to.

Forgetting To Brush Your Tongue

A mother brushes her young son's tongue.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Despite their name, toothbrushes are capable of cleaning your tongue. Before you rinse out your mouth with water, be sure to give your tongue a good scrubbing to remove lingering bacteria.

Some toothbrushes even have a tongue scraper built into them, but the bristles will do just fine. Neglecting your tongue can lead to bad breath and prevent your mouth from being completely clean. You don’t have to scrub it as long as you do your teeth, but it’s important not to neglect it entirely.

Having A Damaging Drink Without Washing Your Mouth After

A model swishes mouthwash.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

If you must drink coffee, lemon water, soda, or any other beverage that is high in acidity, be sure to rinse your mouth with water afterward. If you don’t, the acid will linger on your teeth, eating away at the enamel.

To mitigate the damage, swish water around in your mouth after you’ve finished the beverage. This will help clear out some of the acid. You can also use a pH-balanced mouthwash to even out the acidity levels.