8 Habits That Can Wreck Your Teeth

April 24, 2023
6 min read
8 Habits That Can Wreck Your Teeth

Although much of the conversation about preventive care is centered on the health of your lungs, heart and brain – there is another aspect of your health that needs careful attention. The state of your oral health is essential and directly tied to the state of your overall health. Good oral health supports the ability to talk, smile, smell, taste, chew, swallow, and make facial expressions to express feelings and emotions. All these things are essential to overall quality of life.

Poor oral health can cause measurable pain and disability for people. According to the World Health Organization, oral health problems affect nearly 3.5 billion people globally, and untreated cavities in permanent teeth is the most common health condition affecting people.1 With the right care, cavities are entirely preventable.

Taking care of your oral health should be a top priority – and maintaining healthy teeth starts with managing your everyday behaviors. Below you will find more information about some common but destructive behaviors you should avoid to keep your teeth healthy and smile bright:

Bad Habit 1: Drinking Sugary Soda and Sports Drinks

While sugar itself does not harm teeth directly, the bacteria and acids in sugary drinks set your teeth up for decay or cavities.2

The bacteria that naturally live around your teeth feed on the sugars found in sweet drinks. Plaques form when bacteria grow and multiply, and these plaques help bacteria stay on your teeth for longer. Eventually, that bacteria create acids, which work to wear down the tooth enamel. Teeth with reduced enamel are at higher risk for cavities or decay. Plaques near the gums can also produce toxins that get into the tissue – causing gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis can cause tooth decay or teeth falling out.2 Drinking these common, acidic beverages in moderation can be okay, but overconsumption can wreak havoc on teeth.

Bad Habit 2: Biting Your Nails

Nail-biting is a nervous habit that can potentially chip your teeth. Protruding your jaw to bite the nail can also place stress on the jaw long-term, which can cause other oral structure issues.3

If you are a nail biter, there are a few strategies you can try to help yourself break the habit – including using bitter nail polishes or trying to anticipate your stress triggers so you can make a conscious effort to keep your hands busy.

Bad Habit 3: Chewing on Ice

Chewing on ice, especially during the summer months, is an incredibly common habit – but it can be harmful to your teeth. Chewing and trying to break down hard food like ice can potentially damage your teeth, gums and enamel.3 As tempting as it is to crunch ice between your teeth, you are better off just letting it melt in your mouth – or using a straw for drinking your beverage to avoid the ice altogether.

Bad Habit 4: Brushing Too Hard

Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes is the official recommendation for a healthy smile, but you should make sure you are not brushing too hard. Brushing hard does not make for cleaner teeth. In fact, brushing too hard can hurt your gums and damage your teeth by wearing down the enamel over time.3

Even if you do not tend to brush too hard, you should stick to using “soft” toothbrushes instead of “medium” or “hard.”

Bad Habit 5: Forgetting to Floss

Daily flossing is an essential strategy for keeping teeth healthy, yet many people fail to do it. Flossing is the only way to reach the bacteria in the tight spaces between your teeth and under the gum line. When you floss, keep the following in mind:4

  • Technique. Effective flossing is all about the technique. Break off around 18 inches of dental floss, wind the majority around the middle finger on one hand and the rest around the other middle finger. Keep a tight grip while flossing.
  • Keep it gentle. Do not floss too roughly. You should be flossing in a rubbing motion, not snapping the floss into the gums.
  • Take it slow. Floss one tooth at a time and make sure to use a fresh section of floss for each tooth.

Bad Habit 6: Using Teeth as Tools

Your teeth should not be used as tools to open packages of any kind. It might seem convenient in the moment to try and open something with your mouth, but every time you do, you are putting your teeth at risk for cracking and chipping. Using your teeth to open things wears down on the enamel, so the risk for chipping and cracking increases with time as the protective tissue around the teeth erodes.

Just stop and take the time you need to find a real tool to open something. Your teeth will thank you.

Bad Habit 7: Smoking or Chewing Tobacco

Add tooth issues to the long list of harmful health consequences associated with smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Tobacco can stain your teeth and weaken your immune system – making it more difficult to fight off gum disease. Unhealthy gums can lead to periodontitis – which leads to damage to the soft tissue around the teeth. If left untreated, periodontitis can also damage the bones that support the teeth – leading to tooth loss.5

Bad Habit 8: Ignoring Your Dental Appointments

This might seem obvious, but people who fail to keep up with their routine dental checkups are more likely to have issues with their teeth. It is essential to go to the dentist even when you brush and floss every day and your teeth feel fine.

Common barriers stopping people from going to the dentist enough include:4

  • Limited availability and access to dental services
  • Lack of understanding about the need for care
  • Cost
  • Anxiety over dental procedures

The American Dental Association recommends regular dental visits for everyone but specifically notes that people should work closely with their dentists to determine how often visits should occur. Your dentist can work to identify any potential risk factors that might influence the types of preventive care you need. Generally speaking, getting your teeth cleaned every six months is recommended as routine preventive dental care.6

When Should You Visit the Dentist?

Beyond your regularly scheduled dental cleaning and exams, you should proactively contact your dentist if you notice any symptoms or signs of oral health issues. These signs and symptoms include:4

  • Tender, red or swollen gums
  • Pain while chewing
  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold food or drink
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums that start separating from the teeth
  • Bleeding during brushing or flossing
  • Persistent bad breath or any unusual taste in the mouth

Most oral health issues are preventable – and early detection and treatment of problems with the teeth, gums and mouth is key in ensuring a lifetime of good oral health.


World Health Organization. Oral health. Last reviewed March 25, 2020.
University of Illinois College of Dentistry. Thinking About Another Sweet Gulp? Think Again. Published March 24, 2017.
American Dental Association. Mouth HealthyTM: Habits that Harm Your Teeth. Page accessed December 13, 2020.
The Mayo Clinic. Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics. Last reviewed June 6, 2019.
The Mayo Clinic. Periodontitis. Last reviewed February 14, 2020.
American Dental Association. American Dental Association Statement on Regular Dental Visits. June 10, 2013.

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