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Bite these Habits

Does any part of this day sound familiar?

You wake up and furiously brush your teeth before hopping into the car for your daily commute. As morning traffic crawls along, your body tenses, including your jaw. At the office, you settle in, mindlessly gnawing on a pen cap as you read your email. When lunchtime arrives, the bag of chips you brought doesn’t seem to open, so you rip it with your teeth. Later, that mid-afternoon lull hits hard, so you slug down a soda—your third one. Exhausted by nightfall, you skip brushing and flossing before crashing into bed where you grind your teeth so hard you wake your spouse.

Over time, these seemingly minor, everyday actions can impact oral health—and overall health—in major ways. Noticing these habits and breaking them.

Poor oral health habits come in many forms. Here are common culprits that make your dentist shudder:

Using shabby technique—or none at all

You’re in a hurry. You’re on auto-pilot. You’re thinking about something else. And so, you brush furiously and with force, or you brush for 30 seconds and call it good—or worse, yet, you do both or nothing at all.

When brushing too fast, you end up missing surfaces and wind up with a poor cleaning job. Brushing too hard can damage gums and cause the gum line to recede. It can also wear down tooth enamel, resulting in sensitivity.

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and using a gentle, circular motion. Brush twice a day for 2–3 minutes at a time. If, for some reason, brushing just isn’t an option, chew sugar-free gum and swish your mouth with water following a meal—but don’t make it a habit.

And remember to floss! Don’t just slide floss in and out of the spaces between your teeth, make sure to gently rub it up and down against their sides. Consider using floss picks or wands, if that makes the job easier—whatever ensures you do it daily.

Tempting as it may be, skipping daily brushing and flossing sessions doesn’t pay off. Doing so can get you out of the habit and mean enduring additional, unpleasant plaque at your next checkup. Over time, the omissions may just add up to decay and cavities.

Employing shoddy tools

Bristles that spray out like a sea anemone, rather than stand at attention like little soldiers all in a row, can’t do their job. For optimal “mechanical effectiveness,” the American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months—earlier, if you notice wear. Also make the switch following illness.

Clenching and grinding

We carry our stress in different places. Sometimes it’s a clenched fist, other times clenched teeth. Many of us grind stress out while we sleep. Most of us don’t notice these habits until they create pain or someone else points them out.

Grinding and clenching wear down tooth surfaces; they can also lead to tooth fractures, as well as tension headaches and jaw pain.

Discuss these problems with your dentist. He or she may recommend a mouth guard for nighttime protection. For daytime problems, start practicing awareness. Trying to catch yourself in the moment will help you stop. Check your posture, too; a hunched back and high shoulders create tension. Stress-reduction and relaxation techniques can also help diminish—and even get rid of—these harmful habits.

Chewing more than your food

It’s easy to mindlessly gnaw on a pen or chomp on ice cubes. It may even relieve some of that aforementioned stress. However, finding healthier relaxation techniques could prevent hefty dental bills to repair chips and cracks or address tooth sensitivity caused by worn enamel, for example.

If your nibbling habit fills a need to keep your mouth busy, try chewing sugar-free gum or sipping water instead.

Ripping and tearing

Teeth were made for chewing! They don’t—or, rather, shouldn’t—double as scissors, pliers or nail clippers. Using them for unintended purposes may result in harmful wear, breaks and fractures. The end result: expensive and possibly painful dental work, as well as unsightly appearance.

Keep a small multi-tool or scissors at your desk, or carry one in your purse or pocket. If you have the right tools for the job, you won’t be tempted to use your teeth. If all else fails, save the task for later or get up and walk yourself over to the necessary equipment.

Being too sweet

Sweet tends to be the preferred flavor of stress, boredom, jubilation, disappointment, sorrow, and many other emotions. Grabbing for sugary foods and drinks may provide temporary comfort or energy, but they also erode enamel and facilitate plaque buildup.

If it’s about energy, stand up and stretch or take a 5-minute walk. If it’s a sweet tooth, keep fresh fruit at hand. And, if it’s about refreshment, choose water, low-fat milk or juices made with 50 percent fruit juice and no added sweeteners.

Skipping insurance

Dental insurance is a primary indicator of access to preventive care. Visiting the dentist regularly for preventive care and cleaning is important. Missing out on regular care and care for problems that arise can add up to more costly and serious oral health and health issues.

You only get one set of adult teeth; use them wisely and properly, and treat them with care!

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