Are You Sabotaging Your Smile?
Surprising habits that lead to tooth decay and staining, plus expert advice for keeping your mouth clean and bright.
Smile saboteur: Drinking bottled or filtered water
Why it’s harmful: Most municipalities add fluoride to public drinking water—and have been doing so for decades—to help prevent tooth decay. As more and more people drink filtered or bottled water, though, less of them are benefiting from the cavity-fighting ingredient, according to Dr. Irwin Smigel, celebrity cosmetic dentist and creator of Supersmile. “Studies have shown an increased rise in cavities for children who only drink filtered or bottled water,” he says.
Damage control: Adults who shun tap water should be sure their toothpaste contains the proper recommended dosage of fluoride. Also, some filtration systems, like those from Brita, do not remove fluoride, so check with the maker of your device and use one that leaves in fluoride whenever possible. For kids, getting a “dental sealant”—a plastic coating that fills in grooves to create a smooth surface that’s easy to clean and resistant to decay—is a relatively inexpensive, painless and quick procedure that helps protect the health of teeth, according to Dr. Smigel, who adds that it’s also the most effective way to prevent cavities. “Besides dental sealants, the next best treatment in preventing tooth decay is the topical application of fluoride.”
Smile saboteur: Brushing your teeth with a manual toothbrush
Why it’s harmful: With a manual toothbrush, brushing is left up to the person holding the brush—and unfortunately, most of us are unaware of how to correctly clean our teeth. Plus, manual toothbrushes can age you: According to Smigel, “manual toothbrushes often scrape and push the gumline, causing gum recession—which will make you look older!”
Damage control: “There actually have been a number of studies that show electric toothbrushes can be better than manual toothbrushes,” says Dr. Dan Marut, president and founder of Quality Dental Plan. Most electric toothbrushes, especially those that use sonic technology, both clean and polish teeth, plus they’re better for your gums. “A pulsating toothbrush with angled bristles allows you to get under the gum while gently massaging the gum line,” says Smigel.
Smile saboteur: Drinking white wine
Why it’s harmful: Think only red wine stains teeth? Think again: “White wine can actually cause stains worse than red wine, as white wine is generally more acidic,” says Smigel. While white wine itself doesn’t stain, it’s the acid in the drink (and in things like berries, citrus fruits and juices, mustard, soy sauce, ketchup and more) that erodes tooth enamel, creating rough spots and grooves that leave teeth more vulnerable to staining.
Damage control: When drinking white wine, try to avoid eating darkly-colored, staining foods at the same time. Instead, drink plenty of water and eat some bread with your wine: Both help neutralize the acidity in your mouth to prevent enamel erosion.
Smile saboteur: Brushing your tongue
Why it’s harmful: A whopping 80 percent of bad breath is caused by bacteria left on the tongue, but brushing your tongue with your toothbrush won’t help with halitosis. Instead, this step only re-circulates the bacteria around the mouth when you continue to brush.
Damage control: Pick up a tongue cleaner, which scrapes away gunk with a squeegee like action. “Using one is the most effective way to remove the bacteria that not only causes bad breath but is responsible for gum line cavities, too,” says Smigel.
Smile saboteur: Chewing on ice
Why it’s harmful: “Although your teeth are the hardest substance in your body, they can and do breakdown,” according to Marut. Chewing on ice chips and chunks can accelerate that breakdown process as well as weaken dental restorations like fillings and crowns.
Damage control: Never use your teeth for anything other than to chew food, or think of them as tools. Teeth are not meant to cut thread, open soda cans, pull off pen caps or anything else.