Five Everyday Habits That Damage Your Teeth

Our teeth play essential roles in our lives. They help us chew and digest our food and talk plainly. They also contribute to our appearance. A healthy mouth also helps ward off many medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes. However, nearly 20 percent of US adults aged 65 and older have lost all their teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Here are five everyday habits, according to dentists, that damage teeth.

Chewing Ice

Many people chew on ice after finishing their beverages. Ice is only frozen water, so chewing it may seem to be a harmless habit. However, it can result in tooth enamel loss or a broken filling. Tooth enamel cracks can become more severe as you age, negatively affecting oral health. If the tooth is already worn or chipped, the ice can crack and damage the tooth structure. Ice can also damage braces or fillings and irritate your gums.

To avoid the temptation to chew ice, consider ordering the beverage without ice or drinking it only through a straw.

If you find breaking the ice-chewing habit especially difficult, you may have a medical condition known as pagophagia. Pagophagia is treatable. Treatment depends upon the underlying cause of your pagophagia. A physician can help determine the cause and the best treatment option. 

Drinking Acidic or Sugary Beverages

Drinking sodas, even sugar-free ones, can lead to tooth damage.  Soft drinks, including club soda, contain acids, which can soften tooth enamel and lead to enamel loss and cavities. Even just one soda daily can significantly damage teeth. Juices sweetened with sugar can also negatively affect oral health. Consider replacing soda and sweetened juices with water. If you occasionally have a soft drink, rinse your mouth out with water afterward to reduce the risk of acid and sugar damaging your teeth.

Alcoholic beverages also aren't good for the teeth. For one thing, wine is acidic, posing the same risks as diet soft drinks. Also, alcoholic drinks dry out the mouth, reducing saliva production. Saliva is essential for teeth and gum health. If you do drink alcohol, be sure to rinse your mouth out with water afterward.

Chewing on Pencils and Pens

A common habit is chewing on pencils or pens. Often, children or adults adopt this habit when they have a condition called "hyposensitivity” of the mouth. Many people don't even realize they are chewing. However, if the pattern continues unchecked, it can significantly damage teeth. 

Those who chew on pencils are at increased risk for stress fractures, cracks, and chips on their teeth. These cracks and chips can eventually lead to cavities and, in some cases, loss of the tooth. If the chewer has existing dental work such as fillings, implants, or veneers, the damage can worsen.

Thankfully, pencil chewers can break the habit by substituting the chewing habit with something less harmful to teeth, such as sugar-free gum. Even therapy or hypnosis are possibilities in extreme cases.


Nail-biting can also cause tooth and gum damage. Nail-biting requires pressure, and that pressure may loosen and crack teeth. Your hands typically contain a lot of bacteria and pathogens. Chewing your nails can put those substances into your mouth. The pathogens can lead to gum infection, disease, and other physical difficulties.

Chewing your nails also often causes your jaw to protrude. Having your jaw protrude for a long time can put pressure on it and lead to jaw dysfunction.

To break the habit of chewing your nails, consider applying bitter-tasting polish. Another option is to practice stress reduction techniques. Finally, keep a journal to determine what situations trigger nail-biting. Then, be prepared with alternative options to keep your fingers busy when these situations arise.

Using Teeth as a Tool

One of the surest ways to damage your teeth is to use them as openers, pliers, or scissors. Teeth weren't intended to substitute for tools. Using them as tools can put you at risk of damaging the enamel or root, cracking your teeth, injuring your jaw, or accidentally swallowing something dangerous. Even if you don't immediately discern tooth damage, you may put a small crack in the tooth or weaken it. As time passes, the gap can widen or the tooth further weaken, leading to tooth loss or gum damage.  

Keep tools, such as bottle openers and scissors, handy. If tools are not nearby, stop and find them rather than using your teeth. If your hands are full, resist the urge to carry extra items in your teeth. Find a tray, box, or bag to carry the additional items, or ask a friend to help you.

Changing your habits can be difficult and takes time. Try taking baby steps as you replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones.  Be gentle with yourself.  Remember, giving up these bad habits is worthwhile for your long-term oral health and maintaining your beautiful smile.

If you have tooth damage or want to talk to a dentist about breaking these habits, contact Lynnwood Dental at (865) 317-9929 or set up an appointment online.

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