10 Bad Habits That Are Hard On Your Teeth

Do you bite your nails? Do you grind your teeth? Learn about 10 bad habits that can be damaging to teeth and oral health and why you should stop them right now.

10 bad habits that are hard on your teeth

Photo from Flickr by William Warby:


Most people wouldn't think twice about chewing on their fingernails or eating ice cubes with their iced tea or other cold beverage. But habits like these can cause significant damage to our teeth. Our teeth were meant to be used for two simple tasks: eating and speaking. Without our teeth, chewing food or enunciating words properly becomes difficult.

To help avoid potential minor or major damage to our teeth and even our gums, it's important that we put a stop to certain bad habits.

Here are ten bad habits you should break to protect your dental health.

Nail Biting

Do you know someone who bites her fingernails? According to WebMD, only a small number of adults bite their nails as most people stop nail biting by age 30. When it comes to younger age groups, however, studies have shown that 60% of children and 45% of teenagers bite their fingernails. While nail biting becomes less common after age 18, it can continue into adulthood.

You wouldn't think that nail biting has much of an impact on the health of our teeth, but regular nail biting can cause our teeth to shift out of place and can potentially result in chips and cracks in the tooth and splinters in the enamel.

Some suggestions for curbing this bad habit include regular nail trimmings and applying a bitter-tasting paint or nail polish to the nails. Since nail biting is typically considered a common stress reliever, finding another way to relieve stress such as drawing or writing can help people put a stop to this tooth-damaging habit.

Teeth Clenching/Grinding

Clenching or grinding your teeth can cause a significant amount of pressure to the gums and jaw structure and can also cause fractures and micro-fractures in your teeth. Micro-fractures are weakened areas in your teeth that put them at risk for further damage.

This bad habit is often caused by stress. A great way to reduce stress is to practice yoga [yoga {link to "yoga for dental health" article}].

Chewing Ice Cubes

The cold temperature and the hardness of ice cubes can cause serious damage to your teeth. Curbing this bad habit is critical to maintaining strong, healthy teeth.

Interestingly, according to the Mayo Clinic, craving or chewing ice, also known as pagophagia, may be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. The reason for this craving is unclear, but it is a common side effect of an iron deficiency. Pagophagia or another form of pica, which is the craving and chewing of substances that contain no nutritional value such as ice, paper, or clay, could also be caused by stress.

If you have this bad habit, a visit with your physician may be in order to see if you have an iron deficiency. If it's just stress, simply adding regular yoga practice to your routine could help you break this habit.

Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a common stress reliever for babies and young children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most of us abandon thumb-sucking by age 8. However, an indie movie called Thumbsucker at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, revealed many adults continue to suck their thumbs.

While this action can have a calming effect, it can also aid in improving alertness. The simple process of chewing or sucking is activated by the trigeminal nerve which is the largest cranial nerve. This nerve has branches to the parasympathetic nervous system, the division of the nervous system that is responsible for conserving and restoring energy in the body and maintaining and repairing the body. The trigeminal nerve also has branches to the reticular formation which is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, alertness, and attention.

The danger in sucking on fingers and thumbs after permanent teeth start to come in is that this action could cause permanent changes that affect the alignment of the teeth and jaw. It can cause the teeth to become misaligned, potentially resulting in trouble eating or breathing, says Richard Price, DMD, a retired Boston-area dentist and consumer advisor and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Thumb sucking can turn into the next bad habit on our list.

Biting a Pencil

As a child gets older, he or she may substitute thumb sucking for other actions like chewing on pencils and other objects. This action could be a nervous tick, simply a way to handle stress. It could also be, like other forms of pica, a symptom of iron deficiency.

Holding an object such as a pen, pencil, or eyeglasses between your teeth can supply a significant amount of pressure on your teeth and gums potentially resulting in cracked or loose teeth and other dental issues.

Putting a stop to this bad habit before any damage is done can help your teeth stay healthy and strong for a very long time.  

Biting into Lemons

Lemons are a great source of vitamin C and have a number of great health benefits including detoxification and improving alertness. But biting into a lemon is a bad idea. Lemons contain high levels of citric acid which can quickly wear away the enamel on your teeth. This can then result in greater tooth issues including cavities. Even sipping water with a lemon slice can damage the enamel to some degree.

If you crave that tartness and you must have that lemon fix, at least swish your mouth with water and wait a good hour before brushing your teeth to avoid further damage. Also, make sure saliva flow is adequate. Saliva is our body's way of washing away bacteria and protecting our teeth and gums. If the mouth is dry, it creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, resulting in more serious dental health issues.

Brushing Too Hard

Brushing your teeth is an important part of proper dental care, but brushing too hard can cause damage to the enamel, irritation in the gums, hot and cold sensitivities in the tooth, and cavities.

To help prevent damage caused by brushing your teeth too hard, the ADA recommends choosing a toothbrush that is ADA-approved, meaning it is firm enough to remove plaque but soft enough not to cause damage to the enamel. A soft-bristled toothbrush can help prevent gum damage and wear on the soft tooth dentin and root area.

Better teeth brushing habits include brushing for at least two minutes, using a light touch, and holding the brush at a 45 degree angle to your gums.

Using Your Teeth as a Tool

People commonly use their teeth as tools for a variety of tasks, including to tear open a bag of potato chips, uncap a bottle of nail polish, straighten a bent fork tine, or rip a price tag off a piece of clothing. It might seem convenient at the time but it's a bad idea for the long-term health of your teeth. This process can cause your teeth to crack or chip, especially at the edges.

Putting a stop to this bad habit will help protect your teeth against preventable damage. A simple way to break this bad habit is to keep tools handy so you will be less likely to resort to using your teeth instead.

Avoiding these bad habits can help you maintain strong, healthy teeth. But what if you experience that uncontrollable urge to use your teeth in a way you shouldn't and you end up with a cracked or chipped tooth? Then an emergency trip to the dentist is in order.

Drinking Soda

Did you know that some teenagers drink as many as 12 soft drinks per day?

Carbonated beverages tend to be very acidic and the effects of soda on teeth can cause decay around your gum line and loss of enamel. There is also a significant amount of sugar in soda. One of the major contributors to tooth decay is too much sugar consumption, so it's worth taking some measures to reduce the amount of soda you consume.

But what about sugar-free soda? Drinking sugar-free or diet soda might give us some benefits such as lower calories, but it still contains harmful acid that damages the tooth enamel.

Your best bet when it comes to protecting your teeth and gums is to eliminate carbonated beverages altogether. The initial transition to healthier beverages might be a challenge, but eventually you will stop craving it or enjoying it if you do decide to drink it again. Cutting soda from your diet won't just have dental health benefits; it will be good for the rest of your body as well.

Using Toothpicks

How can toothpicks be bad for your dental health, you wonder. Proper toothpick use can help remove food particles and debris from your teeth, but if you're not careful, you could be damaging your tooth enamel, lacerating gum tissue, and even causing a broken tooth. Bonding or veneers can be chipped or broken with improper toothpick use. Additionally, aggressive toothpick use could damage the roots of the teeth, especially where the gums have pulled away from the teeth leaving root surfaces exposed. A broken splinter could also lodge itself in the gum, resulting in an infection if not removed.

To protect your teeth and gums against damage, choose other ways to remove food from your teeth such as dental floss or brushing. If you must use a toothpick, at least use it carefully so you don't aggravate the gums or cause abrasions on the teeth.


We all know smoking is a bad habit, but we often discount the damage it can do to one's dental health. Smoking causes of a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, making people who smoke more susceptible for infections and hindering the body's ability to properly heal infected gums. Smoking also causes more dental plaque and it accelerates the severity of gum disease. Other dental health issues include periodontal disease and bone loss.

Think smokeless tobacco is better? Think again. Just one can of chewing tobacco delivers more nicotine than over 60 cigarettes. The tobacco irritates the gum tissue, causing gum recession, root exposure, and eventually tooth decay. The exposed roots can cause difficulty in eating or drinking as they are more sensitive to hot and cold. Oftentimes, sugars are added to smokeless tobacco to improve flavor, resulting in a greater risk of tooth decay. Not to mention, the tobacco often contains sand and grit which furthers the damage to the teeth and gums.

Bad habits that are hard on your teeth can also be hard on your pocketbook. Before your emergency appointment, check out Carefree Dental's discount plan to see if a monthly membership is right for you.













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