10 Healthy Habits That Are Destroying Your Teeth
Last Updated: Apr 25, 2017
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A bright, vibrant smile doesn’t just make you feel more confident; healthy teeth and gums are key to your overall health. Tooth decay and inflamed gums boost the level of inflammation in your body — so much so that gum disease has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of Alzheimer’s and a greater chance of complications from diabetes. Of course, brushing and flossing regularly, as well as getting regular cleanings and examinations, are the best ways to keep your mouth healthy. But certain lifestyle factors can also make a big difference. Read on to learn how otherwise healthy habits can affect your teeth and gums and what to do to keep them strong.
EATING SMALL MEALS
Ditching three square meals a day for five to six smaller ones gives you benefits ranging from faster weight loss to a higher metabolism. The problem? Eating several times a day can cause problems for your teeth. “The presence of food on your teeth always provides opportunity for bacteria to grow, especially if any of those foods are sugary,” says Dr. Brent Rusnak of Richmond, Virginia-based River Run Dental. Each snack and meal exposes the cavity-causing germs on your teeth to a fresh supply of carbs — which means they’ll have an even better chance to erode your teeth. Instead, limit your mealtime to three square meals a day. And if you need to snack, enjoy it in one sitting to limit the time your teeth are exposed to acid — don’t graze throughout the day.
DRINKING LEMON WATER
From boosting your hydration to supplying vitamins and promoting detoxification, lemon water is said to work wonders for your health. But these tart fruits are among the most acidic foods, and sipping lemon water during the day can expose your teeth to larger-than-usual amounts of acid. “Acid exposure eats away at tooth enamel,” says Rusnak. “And when the enamel is compromised, the tooth structure is completely vulnerable.” As a result, you might develop white spots on your teeth — a sign that your enamel has lost some of the mineralization that makes it strong. And this could in turn increase your risk of tooth decay. Minimize your acid exposure by drinking your lemon water quickly, not sipping on it all morning. Even better, just reach for plain water instead.
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COOKING WITH NATURAL SUGARS
When you’re cutting processed sugar out of your diet, you’re less likely to feel deprived if you instead turn to healthier natural sweeteners like dates, maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey. And while most natural sweeteners do have some nutritional value (dates, for instance, are a great way to get more iron), they’re not necessarily any better for your teeth than the processed stuff. “While natural sugars may have some advantageous effects on glycemic index, the bacteria in your mouth can’t tell a difference,” says Samantha Sacchetti, general dentist at Kenilworth, Illinois-based Village Dental. “They’ll use them the same way they use plain old sugar to produce the acids that break down tooth structure and cause cavities.” Treat even healthy sweets as an occasional indulgence to avoid cavities, and avoid grazing on naturally sweetened snacks throughout the day.
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Kombucha’s sparkling, effervescent texture makes it the perfect healthy replacement for sodas and other carbonated drinks. And each bottle of kombucha comes loaded with healthy probiotics, which promote digestive health. But kombucha’s tangy flavor comes courtesy of vinegar (also called acetic acid), which is — you guessed it — acidic. This means it can erode your enamel, causing white spots of demineralization as well as tooth sensitivity, says Rusnak. “If you choose to drink kombucha as a source of probiotics, make sure to drink it in one sitting and rinse your mouth with water afterwards.”
MAKING YOUR TOOTHPASTE
We’re all about natural beauty products, but DIY toothpaste is where you should draw the line. While commercial toothpastes are usually evaluated by the American Dental Association to ensure they’re not too abrasive, homemade toothpastes aren’t tested — which means they can be too harsh on your enamel. “While I support anything that encourages brushing, materials like baking soda, salt and charcoal are simply too abrasive and can quickly damage the enamel on your teeth,” explains Jennifer Dean, dentist at Rancho Santa Fe Cosmetic & Family Dentistry in California. Over time, that damage can increase tooth sensitivity and up your risk of new cavities. “Reputable companies that make toothpastes that do include ingredients like baking soda do so in a way that reduces the abrasiveness, allowing it to be safely used.” Protect your smile by opting for toothpastes that bear the ADA seal of approval.
EATING DRIED FRUITS
Let’s face it: Dried fruit (especially naturally sweeter fruits like mango) is delicious. And dried fruits offer plenty of nutritional benefits, including eye-friendly vitamin A in dried apricots and circulation-boosting iron in raisins. But snacking on dried fruit is significantly worse for your teeth than eating the fresh stuff. “With dried fruits, all the water is taken out from the fruit, leaving a lot of concentrated sugar. A lot of manufacturers will actually add sugar as well, making it even worse,” says Sacchetti. And because dried fruit is especially sticky, it can become lodged in tiny grooves and indentations on your teeth, becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet for cavity-causing bacteria. “Dried fruit is fine to eat — as long as you’re diligent about not letting it sit on your teeth after,” says Sacchetti. So brush and floss right after. “And if you’re someone who is cavity prone, you may want to skip the dried fruit altogether.”
That tasty LaCroix habit may be calorie-free, but drinking seltzer or sparkling water throughout the day could negatively impact your teeth. While plain water has a neutral pH — which means that it’s not acidic and not able to dissolve your enamel — seltzer has an acidic pH because of the carbonic acid added during carbonation, says Sacchetti. While it is less acidic than regular soda, which makes it a better choice, you’ll still need to limit your exposure. Drink your seltzer all at once instead of in sips throughout the day, and rinse your mouth out afterward.
DRINKING BOTTLED WATER
Speaking of water, opting for bottled versions over plain old tap water can be surprisingly bad for your teeth. The reason? You’re missing out on fluoride, a mineral that helps strengthen your enamel and makes your teeth more resistant to acid decay. “The effect of fluoride in preventing cavities has been widely proven,” says Sacchetti. “We recommend that all our patients brush with a fluoride toothpaste and drink tap water to make sure they are getting enough.” Every so often, switch out bottled water with a glass of tap water to make sure you're getting enough of the mineral.
You might think that vigorously brushing your teeth for minutes on end after each meal is a good thing. But brushing for longer than two minutes won’t improve your oral health. In fact, it might actually make it worse. That excess brushing can damage your gum tissue, explains Dean. Over time, your gums can recede away from your teeth, exposing cavity-prone roots and causing tooth sensitivity. Stick to the dentist-recommended two-minute brushing sessions to remove plaque without damaging your gums. And ensure you’re using light pressure — just enough to displace the plaque — since brushing too hard can damage your gums too.
Sure, eating a piece of fruit or a serving of veggies provides digestion-boosting fiber. But many of us turn to veggie-packed juice as a way to get the minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients from several cups of produce in one easy-to-drink serving. And some juices have specific health benefits: Beet juice, for instance, can boost your endurance, helping you perform better at the gym. But there’s a downside too. “Freshly pressed juices are typically loaded with sugar, which can lead to decay and erosion,” says Rusnak. Certain juices — like blueberry, blackberry and beet juices, might also stain your teeth, making your pearly whites a little less vibrant. Keep your juices tooth-friendly by opting for veggie-only blends, which tend to be lower in sugar. And if you’re prone to tooth staining, go for lighter-colored juices instead of berry- or beet-based ones.
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