Obviously you know not brushing and flossing regularly isn’t the greatest for your teeth. But you probably don’t realize just how damaging skipping those twice-a-day brushing and once-a-day flossing sessions can be. According to the 2014 Delta Dental Oral Health and Well-Being Survey, more than 30 percent of Americans don’t brush enough, and 23 percent have actually gone two or more days without brushing at all! When it comes to flossing, only 40 percent of people floss at least once a day, and 20 percent just don’t do it period. “Your mouth is full of bacteria all the time,” says Kohn. “When certain bacteria sit on your teeth for long enough, they start colonizing and produce acid that can break down your teeth. Brushing helps remove the plaque before the colonies can start to inflict damage, and flossing helps ensure you get what the brush can’t reach.”
3. Brushing Side to Side
It’s not like you can just stick a toothbrush in your mouth, move it around, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Proper brushing requires a certain technique, says Kohn. “One method we teach is using a soft-bristle toothbrush and brushing in small circles instead of side to side. Forceful side-to-side brushing combined with an abrasive toothpaste can damage the teeth.” Worth noting: Whitening toothpastes tend to be harsher than other varieties. Kohn also recommends making sure you brush along the gum line and the back of your teeth to loosen bacteria. Another big brushing mistake? Not doing it for long enough. “Two minutes is an arbitrary number, but the message is to brush until you completely get all sides of every single tooth,” says Kohn. “On average, it’ll take a couple of minutes.”
4. Picking a Non-Fluoride Toothpaste
Some toothpastes, especially natural ones, brand themselves as fluoride-free. The thing is, you need fluoride to achieve the healthiest teeth possible. “One of the main accomplishments of brushing your teeth is that it acts as a fluoride-delivery system and gets a concentrated amount of it to each tooth surface,” says Kohn. Fluoride is so essential because unless you remove absolutely every bit of plaque each day (something that’s very hard to do), fluoride can help replace the minerals worn away by bacteria-produced acid. “It can help repair the teeth even after bacteria has damaged them,” says Kohn.
5. Using Your Teeth as a Tool
Spend the extra minute searching for your scissors instead of opening a bag with your pearly whites. “Using your teeth to open bags, bite nails, and especially do things like open bottles is particularly damaging,” says Kohn. “Your teeth aren’t made for that kind of shearing action.” As an adult, your teeth’s edges have worn over the years. That makes it easier to injure the edge of a tooth if you accidentally catch it incorrectly on a hard surface.
6. Chewing Ice
…Or other super tough things like bones and fruit pits. “Teeth don’t have great fracture resistance to that kind of force,” says Kohn. “Especially with ice, part of it is the thermal aspect. You’re subjecting your teeth to big ranges of hot and cold, which tend to make things expand and contract very slightly. Even that can be enough to put little micro-cracks in your enamel.” You can get away with it for a while, but the little cracks in your teeth can build up and one day, a piece might just break off.
7. Nursing a Sugary Drink All Day
If you have a soda can hanging out on your desk all day, you’re putting your teeth at risk. “Unless it’s sugar-free, you’re instantly feeding your mouth’s bacteria sugar all day long,” says Kohn. You already know soda sans sugar isn’t the best thing for you, so take this as a suggestion to kick all forms of the bubbly stuff to the curb. “If you drink a sugared drink, be done with it, then brush your teeth,” says Kohn. “At the very least, rinse well with water to remove some of the sugar from your teeth.” This also applies to sugary and carb-filled snacks like chips and pretzels. “It takes 20 or so minutes for your teeth’s pH levels to return to normal after something junky,” says Kohn. If you’re constantly munching and sipping, you don’t give them a break from the onslaught of colonizing bacteria. Stash a travel brush and toothpaste in your desk drawer, and head to the bathroom when you can for a quick cleaning session after you have a particularly sweet snack.