The older I get, the more I realize why people loathe going to the dentist. I think it says less about dentists and more about the nature of teeth weakening as they get older. Regardless, it seems that every time I sit in that way-too-slowly-reclining chair, I get worse and worse news. As it turns out, I have no one to blame but myself — I do things every single day that my dentist wants to wring my neck for. To me, they’re harmless … but not in her opinion.
Here, Blue Bell-based dentist Dr. Mary Puleo gets real about common mistakes you’re probably making that can screw with your teeth in a big way.
1. Using your teeth to cut things.
We’ve all been there: That two seconds of debating whether to cut that tag off your shirt/nail off your finger/thread from your pants with the appropriate tool (Where are the scissors?) or just bite it off. For some, it happens more than we’d care to admit. But, as Dr. Puleo tells us, “You don’t want to use your teeth for instruments. They’re made for chewing food and nothing else.” You could actually crack your teeth by using them to open or cut things, which is a world of dental annoyance, cost and pain.
2. Going to bed without brushing your teeth.
Most of us had to face the wrath of Mom if we tried to go to bed without brushing our teeth back in the day. But now, as adults, most of us don’t have parents checking to see if we’re going to bed with clean chompers, which means the only people we have to answer to are ourselves. And after a long night, Netflix binge or unexpected sleepover, it’s easy to say, “I’ll just brush them in the morning.” Dr. Puleo reminds us, “All the food and carbohydrates and sugar are on your teeth from the day. At night, bacteria double their population every 20 minutes, so you have all that bacteria with the food source now thriving in your mouth all night long, without saliva taking that off. The byproduct of bacteria is an acid, and that’s what makes inflammation, cavities, and puts holes in your teeth.”
3. Not flossing every single day.
You’ve gotta floss at least once a day, plain and simple. Dr. Puleo explains, “You can’t get between your teeth with your toothbrush to disrupt the plaque.” That’s why floss exists. It makes no difference when you floss; just make sure it’s once a day. Turn it into a habit by flossing when you watch the nightly news or do other some daily passive activity.
4. Missing your bi-annual teeth cleaning.
Remember said blanket of plaque that builds on and between your teeth? “As that blanket of plaque builds, it becomes thicker, to the point where it’s not soft anymore,” Dr. Puleo warns. “It hardens to the point where you can’t remove it anymore — a professional needs to.” But when you miss your bi-annual teeth cleaning, that plaque keeps building and building, making it tougher to scrape off. This breeding ground for bacteria needs to be blasted off your teeth regularly to ensure strong, healthy teeth for life.
5. Eating or drinking sugary foods without rinsing afterwards.
When you’re out and about, it’s tough to take a toothbrush with you to freshen up after every single bite of food. That’s understandable. However, do rinse out your mouth with water after eating or drinking anything sugary. Otherwise, “That’s just letting that food source fester in there. You’re giving bacteria a big meal and letting it sit there until you brush your teeth.” Just remember: Sugar is food for bacteria. Don’t feed the bacteria.
6. Ignoring your tongue.
Brush that tongue! As Dr. Puleo says, “You have a coating on your tongue that’s full of bacteria.” And — say it with me — bacteria is the enemy of a clean and healthy mouth. There’s are a number of tongue-cleaning utensils on the market, but using your regular toothbrush with some toothpaste on it works just fine as well.7
7. Playing sports without a mouthguard.
Kids and adults alike should wear mouthguards. “You don’t want to get hit in the mouth and lose a tooth,” says Dr. Puleo. Take it from the expert, no matter how dweeby you look on the field, (because what’s dweebier than a mouthguard?), it’s better than a jack-o-lantern mouth of missing teeth because of that one slide tackle in your adult soccer league.
8. Putting off dental pain.
We get it: Going to the dentist is the worst. However, if you ignore the first signs of dental pain, you could just be making the problem worse. Cavities grow. Infections fester and deepen. Just listen to your body, take your pain seriously, and book your appointment ASAP. You don’t want irreversible damage to occur because you were trying to “tough it out.”
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