9 Mouth Habits That Are Bad For Your Health

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There are some things we all know about how to maintain good oral hygiene: don't eat a buttload of garlic before a date, don't overdo it with the mouthwash, don't spit on the sidewalk in front of old ladies. (Wait, no, that's an etiquette tip — but still a good idea.) But there are other oral health habits that might be compromising the safety and happiness of your teeth, tongue, lips and the skin around your chompers — and they're habits you might think are totally harmless.

My grandfather was a dentist, so I was raised with a lot of insider information about oral health (He replaced my dad's front teeth with fakes when they were knocked out as a teenager; so perhaps one pertinent piece of oral health advice that I learned from my family is "do not run into poles"). So I'm more au fait with oral hygiene than most — but even I was unaware that toothbrushes have expiration dates and whitening strips can have a nasty side. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth is likely the thing that will get you the second date, so let's treat it properly.

So here are nine possible sins you may be committing against your oral health. Yes, you may commence giggling at the world "oral" now, as long as you promise to start flossing more.

1. Not Brushing Properly

Do you know how to brush your teeth properly? No, I mean really properly. I know you're not five, but apparently many of us adults are still doing it wrong. You should brush at a slight angle, swiftly, and not only the front of the tooth — remember to always do the backs, sides and all the crevasses, and to use enough toothpaste to create a good foam. But don't get too enthusiastic: over-brushing can result in receding gums, so don't spend too long on it; an efficient clean is much better than a way-too-energetic one.

2. Not Flossing

Yes, Virginia, you do need to floss. (My grandfather thought this was newfangled nonsense and believed that a toothpick dipped in fluoride would do much the same job — but considering he trained in the '40s, we probably want to disregard his advice.) And don't just dip it between the teeth quickly and move on; work the floss gently down both sides of each space between teeth, curving it one way and then the other, moving it backwards and forwards, to really work out any loose bits.

3. Ignoring Blood On The Gums

OK, so you've flossed, or just brushed particularly vigorously, and now there's blood when you spit into the sink. No big deal? Erm, nope. Gingivitis and other gum disease problems are not fun and may cause nasty side effects, including tooth loss, infections, and erosion of the gum — and bleeding gums can be a sign of it. Call the dentist if you are getting some pink in the sink, and if they want you to go in, suck it up and go.

4. Not Changing Your Toothbrush Often Enough

It's recommended that you change your toothbrush three to four times a year. Why? Because the effectiveness of a brush relates to the stiffness and shape of the bristles, and once they become worn down they're less helpful. Also, frankly, grim stuff starts to build up on them that you do not want in your mouth.

5. Smoking

In some news that should surprise nobody, smoking is not good for the mouth. It yellows teeth, causes rank breath, and is also linked to the development of mouth cancers. Nicotine-stained teeth aren't pretty, and neither is gum disease caused by tar smoke — and oral cancer kills nearly 10,000 Americans each year. So put out that butt immediately.

6. Drinking Acidic Drinks (Or Not Using A Straw When You Drink Them)

We were all taught this in elementary school: fizzy drinks are harmful to tooth health. They contribute to tooth erosion, where the enamel of the tooth is gradually worn away and requires filling or bridging. If you insist on your sugary drinks despite the risk of cavities, the Dental Health Foundation recommends that you drink through a straw and aim at the back of the mouth, in order to avoid as many tooth surfaces as possible.

7. Using Your Teeth For Non-Chewing Purposes

If you've ever chipped a tooth using it to open a bottle, hold a bobby pin, or do anything besides chewing your food, you'll sympathize with this particular point. Chipping teeth is not recommended; they may look charming, but they also may conceal hidden cracks in your tooth, and cause a headache if you need to have them fixed. Avoid putting your teeth under any unnecessary strain and always wear proper mouth guards during sport.

8. Poking At Cold Sores

Many people will get cold sores around the mouth at one point or another; most of us catch herpes simplex 1, the "cold sore virus," and it is no big deal. But it's important to know how to treat our cold sores properly. The number one thing to remember? Don't poke, pick or generally fiddle with them. For one, the sore is transferred skin-to-skin, so material from the sore transferred to another mucus membrane or cut in the skin (say, inside the mouth) could mean you get two instead of one. This goes for ulcers, too; put soothing cream on them and leave them very well alone until they heal.

9. Overdoing The Whitening Strips

You may be tempted to get a blinding white smile at all costs, but dentists warn that spending too long with whitening strips on your teeth may actually damage their surface. There are deliberate time restrictions on strip directions for a reason, and leaving them on for excess time may result in increased sensitivity and pain in the teeth. You should be careful about whitening treatments in general: only do them in consultation with dentists, make sure they're tailored to your particular situation, and never double-dose or try multiple things at once.

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