kids smiling and giving a thumbs upYour teeth are tough, but they’re not invincible. Teeth are coated with a layer of enamel, the hardest substance found in the human body, but even enamel can crack or chip. And one thing that can damage enamel is a bad habit. Bad oral health habits can also cause teeth and jaw misalignment. That means a bad habit can create a need for braces or keep you in them longer than you might otherwise need to be.

Here are some bad oral health habits we sometimes encounter here at Thurman Orthodontics and some tips on how to break them:

1. Chewing ice cubes

Why it’s a problem – Chewing on ice cubes can crack and chip your teeth or your brackets. Teeth are for chewing food, not busting apart hard things.

Potential solutions – If your mouth craves something cold and icy, try popsicles, slushies, or cold drinks. Sugar-free choices are of course better for your teeth. In addition, there can be a link between iron deficiencies and ice-chewing behavior, so a persistent problem could merit a screening for anemia.

2. Biting your fingernails

Why it’s a problem – A fingernail-biting habit can chip teeth and push them out of position. Aside from the oral health consequences, the habit can get you sick from the germs you carry on your hands. It can also cause sore and red fingers and lead to infections around the nail.

Potential solutions – First, try keeping your nails well trimmed so there’s nothing there to chew on. Drugstores also sell a bitter, bad-tasting nail polish for compulsive nail chewers. Another idea is to try putting bandages on your fingertips until you break the habit. Nail chewing can also be a symptom of OCD, which would require help from a mental health professional.

3. Sucking your thumb

Why it’s a problem – Thumb sucking pushes teeth out of alignment and can alter jaw structure, while also introducing illness-causing germs into the mouth.

Potential solutions – Silicone items made for chewing called “chewelry” might displace the behavior. For children, simply talking with them about their habit and general encouragement to break it can help, or try a reward system. Because many children suck their thumbs for comfort, negative techniques like shame and bad-tasting nail polish aren’t recommended.

4. Chewing on a pen or pencil

Why it’s a problem – As with ice chomping, chewing on a pen can crack and chip your teeth or brackets. Chewing on wood pencils with metal eraser tips can cause even more damage. Pencil chewing also leads to ingesting bits of paint and wood that create inflammation in oral cavity tissues.

Potential solutions – Redirect that chewing energy into silicone “chewelry”, which are made for teeth. You can even buy silicone pen or pencil toppers for this very habit.

5. Teeth grinding

Why it’s a problem – Bruxism, the medical term for teeth grinding, typically happens at night. It can fracture teeth, and people with this condition will wake up with jaw pain and headaches.

Potential solutions – If you have facial pain in the morning, ask us at Thurman Orthodontics or your general dentist to create a dental guard to protect your teeth.

6. Opening packages with your teeth

Why it’s a problem – This habit can chip tooth enamel and damage dental work.

Potential solutions – Look for a pair of scissors, of course! Your teeth are not tools.

7. Brushing too hard

Why it’s a problem – Brushing hard won’t remove extra plaque or tartar (a dental cleaning is needed to do that), but “toothbrush abrasion” will wear down your gums and tooth enamel and you could damage your brackets and wires.

Potential solutions – Choose a soft toothbrush, and be mindful of proper brushing techniques. Ask us or your dentist for a tooth-brushing tutorial.

If you have any questions about how to solve an oral health habit, ask Dr. Thurman or any of our team members. Ready to straighten your smile? Request a free consultation here!