We all know that dental care is expensive.Although some of what happens to our teeth is out of our control, bad oral habits are one thing we can prevent. As a part of your oral health plan, not biting your nails, smoking or grinding your teeth may save you from dental crowns, dental caps or dental veneers.
A Lifelong Habit:
A majority of our bad habits start when we are children, or sometimes even when we are still infants. For example, many parents put their young children to sleep using a bottle of milk or juice. The sugars in this seemingly innocent bedtime drink can damage a child’s mouth, resulting in the phenomenon known as “bottle mouth.” (If you have started this bad habit with your children, there is an easy solution: gradually add water to the bottle each night, until eventually you are giving the child a bottle of pure water at bedtime.)
Another common bad habit in children is thumb sucking. Over time, this can cause a child’s jaw bones to reshape – pushing their teeth out of alignment. It can also cause the child to hold his or her tongue in the wrong place, which causes the entire mouth to shape itself incorrectly. Many children who were thumb suckers end up wearing dental braces later on. The damage caused by thumb sucking can even lead to overbites and snoring.
Breaking the habit of thumb sucking can be difficult as a child uses their thumb as a form of comfort. Be careful not to use drastic solutions such as putting cayenne pepper on the child’s thumb; this can cause great harm to your children. Instead, contact a pediatrician for gentle and safe alternatives.
Grown-Ups Do It, Too:
It’s important to catch problems when children are young, because bad oral habits often continue well into adulthood. Infants who drink fruit juice before bed may turn into adults who rot their teeth with too many sweets. Children who suck their thumbs may grow up to smoke or chew their pencils.
Some of the most common bad habits in adults include:
Nail biting: This is bad for your nails and hard on your teeth. Of course, it can also contribute to the spread of disease.
Smoking: In addition to the damage it does to the rest of your body, smoking leads to yellow teeth, bad breath, receding gums, bone loss, mouth lesions and oral cancer. Switching to chewing tobacco, pipes or cigars will not reduce the symptoms. The only way to avoid damage from tobacco products is to stop using them.
Biting hard objects: If you chew your pens, pencils, eyeglasses and so on, you could be causing irreparable damage to your teeth. In addition to causing stress fractures on your teeth, you could be irritating your joints and chewing muscles. To help you break this habit, you can chew gum instead, but beware: dental studies have shown that excessive gum-chewing can also cause damage to your chewing muscles. Don’t try to break your habit by chewing ice or hard candy! These are just as damaging as chewing pencils.
Bruxism: This is the technical dental term for clenching or grinding your teeth. If you clench your teeth unconsciously from stress, or if you grind your teeth hard at night, you could be causing irreparable damage to the muscles and joints. This damage is usually far worse than damage caused by chewing pens or pencils. In fact, it can lead to a disease called TMJ, in which the joints of the mouth are in chronic pain.
You may not be aware of your bruxism even if you are doing it during the day, because it is often an unconscious habit induced by stress. Other symptoms from grinding or clenching include an aching jaw, a headache or an earache. If you have these symptoms, contact your dentist to discuss possible solutions.
Your dentist can also help you correct damage from your bad oral habits, and he or she can sometimes prescribe medication to alleviate the pain that they cause. It also helps to have good oral hygiene. If you brush your teeth, eat healthy food instead of sweets, and floss regularly, you can combat some of the symptoms.
Although your family dentist can help you fix many problems, keep in mind that no dentist is a miracle worker. If you let your habits go too far, the damage can be irreversible. It’s best to quit now while you’re ahead.