Reader's Digest International - - Contents - BY LISA BENDALL

These habits are good for your health but bad for your teeth.

These habits are good for your health but bad for your teeth

I’VE AL­WAYS BEEN dili­gent about brush­ing my teeth at least twice a day. (Who doesn’t love a minty-fresh smile?) But six or seven years ago, I learned that my technique was sorely lack­ing. I tended to rush through the job, scrub­bing fu­ri­ously, and af­ter decades of overly vig­or­ous clean­ing, my teeth had de­vel­oped an un­com­fort­able sen­si­tiv­ity to heat and cold. My den­tal hy­gien­ist ex­plained that the enamel, or pro­tec­tive layer, was wear­ing thin and ex­pos­ing the more sen­si­tive den­tine un­der­neath. Among her sug­ges­tions: brush gen­tly up and down rather than ag­gres­sively, and take your time—at least two min­utes.

“It’s a very typ­i­cal ex­am­ple,” says Dr. Euan Swan, man­ager of den­tal pro­grams at the Cana­dian Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion. “A pa­tient is proud of the fact that they’re brush­ing so hard, but

they’re dam­ag­ing their teeth.”

When we first de­velop habits to im­prove our well-be­ing, we aren’t al­ways aware of the prob­lems they could cause for our pearly whites. “Teeth tend to be a lower pri­or­ity in terms of health, so some things tend to get missed,” says Dr. Mark Parhar, an en­dodon­tist in Bri­tish Columbia, Canada, who spe­cial­izes in the soft in­ner tis­sues of the teeth. Here are seven healthy prac­tices that could be trash­ing your teeth—and how to stop the dam­age.


Does your morn­ing rou­tine in­clude grab­bing a tooth­brush im­me­di­ately af­ter break­fast? Ku­dos to you for brush­ing reg­u­larly, but your tim­ing needs tweak­ing. When you con­sume some­thing acidic, like or­anges or toma­toes, the enamel tem­po­rar­ily soft­ens and be­comes sus­cep­ti­ble to abra­sive wear. If you brush your teeth, es­pe­cially force­fully, you can re­move enamel, which will leave your chom­pers feel­ing sen­si­tive. It gets worse as you get older, since your gums tend to recede with age and ex­pose more root sur­face. (Tooth roots aren’t cov­ered by enamel, but rather a thin­ner layer of a sub­stance called ce­men­tum.)

If you want to ex­er­cise cau­tion, wait ap­prox­i­mately 30 min­utes to brush. “Saliva is a buffer­ing agent and will bring the acid­ity of the oral en­vi­ron­ment down, but it takes time,” says Gerry (Geral­dine) Cool, a den­tal hy­gien­ist in Al­berta, Canada and the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Den­tal Hy­gien­ists As­so­ci­a­tion. Eat­ing some types of dairy, es­pe­cially ched­dar cheese, can raise the PH in­side the mouth and re­lease cal­cium and other sub­stances that fight plaque; and rins­ing your mouth with wa­ter can help wash away de­bris wedged be­tween teeth. You can also brush be­fore eat­ing

some­thing acidic in­stead of af­ter.


You may be dili­gent about con­trol­ling a chronic health con­di­tion by tak­ing pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions as di­rected. Un­for­tu­nately, if you’re on any one or more of the hun­dreds of drugs—in­clud­ing cer­tain an­tide­pres­sants and pain meds—that have the side ef­fect of re­duc­ing saliva flow, your oral health could suf­fer. “Pa­tients on those med­i­ca­tions tend to have a dry mouth, so they’re at a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing tooth de­cay,”

says Swan, “be­cause the saliva isn’t there to phys­i­cally wash food de­bris away or buf­fer acids.”

The so­lu­tion isn’t to stop your med­i­ca­tion, un­less your doc­tor can of­fer an al­ter­na­tive with­out that side ef­fect.



In­stead, try sip­ping wa­ter through­out the day. You can in­crease saliva flow with sug­ar­less gum, mints con­tain­ing xyl­i­tol, or sprays, gels and tablets de­signed specif­i­cally for dry mouth.


There are many ways phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity ben­e­fits your body. It helps with car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, weight con­trol and mood man­age­ment, for starters. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in im­pact sports such as ice hockey or mar­tial arts, how­ever, can do a num­ber on your teeth if they aren’t prop­erly pro­tected. A cus­tom mouth­guard (fit­ted by a den­tist) pro­vides a cush­ion around your teeth in case of an im­pact to the face. They can be in­valu­able when there’s a risk of phys­i­cal con­tact, whether on the rink or on the bas­ket­ball court.

“When you don’t wear a mouth­guard, you see teeth chip­ping or be­ing knocked out—dam­age that re­quires a lot of work to re­pair,” says Parhar, who has a back­ground in sports den­tistry.

In­tense ex­er­cise may also af­fect the quan­tity and qual­ity of your saliva. A 2015 study of triath­letes in The Scan­di­na­vian Jour­nal of Medicine & Sci­ence in Sports showed that when the ath­letes were ac­tive, their saliva flow slowed down while PH went up. Both changes can have a neg­a­tive im­pact on teeth, which sug­gests that any­one ac­tive in sports should prac­tise metic­u­lous oral hy­giene and seek reg­u­lar den­tal care.


Swig­ging wa­ter with fresh lemon juice is said to help di­ges­tion, strengthen im­mu­nity and cleanse your body of tox­ins. “I find it nice as a hot drink in the morn­ing, es­pe­cially when it’s cold out,” says 64-year-old Chris­tine Peets of On­tario, Canada, who drinks lemon wa­ter through­out the day to calm her di­ges­tive is­sues and stay hy­drated.

She be­came con­cerned, though, af­ter a rel­a­tive—also a fan of the drink—dis­cov­ered it was weak­en­ing her tooth enamel, so Peets checked with her den­tal hy­gien­ist. Lemon wa­ter may be a pop­u­lar trend, but acidic fruit juice is a ma­jor cul­prit when it comes to den­tal ero­sion from diet. “Even though you’re di­lut­ing

lemon juice with wa­ter, you’re still rais­ing the acid level of the mouth. If you sip, and you’re do­ing that two or three times through­out the day over a pro­longed pe­riod of time, I’d be con­cerned,” says Cool.

Peets’s hy­gien­ist warned her to de­lay brush­ing right away af­ter con­sum­ing lemon wa­ter, and also rec­om­mended try­ing tooth­paste for sen­si­tive teeth and brush­ing less force­fully. Drink­ing quickly is not a full fix, but it’s much bet­ter than sip­ping the tart mix­ture at length; us­ing a straw may also lessen detri­men­tal ef­fects. Check that the wa­ter isn’t too hot, as warmer tem­per­a­tures in­ten­sify the tooth dam­age. And if you’re go­ing to drink the acidic bev­er­age, Cool sug­gests hav­ing a drink of plain, or­di­nary wa­ter soon af­ter­wards.


Ice is free of calo­ries and sugar, will cool you down on a hot day, is usu­ally PH-NEU­TRAL and won’t stick to your teeth. Isn’t crunch­ing ice much more whole­some, there­fore, than chew­ing on candy? Turns out it has its down­sides. “Ice is very hard,” says Dr. Hen­drike van Drie, a pe­ri­odon­tist in Maas­tricht, the Nether­lands, and chair of the oral­health work­ing group at the Coun­cil of Eu­ro­pean Den­tists. “Chew­ing on it dam­ages teeth by caus­ing cracks and frac­tures in enamel and restora­tions.” Van Drie adds that con­stant ex­po­sure to cold tem­per­a­tures can lead to den­tine hy­per­sen­si­tiv­ity.

“I’ve got a few ice chew­ers in my prac­tice, and I’m al­ways en­cour­ag­ing them to break that habit. You just don’t want to crunch hard things,” says Cool. “The enamel is prob­a­bly the hard­est tis­sue in our bod­ies, but when there’s chronic wear and tear, there’s an in­creased chance that it can flat­ten the con­tours of the teeth.” Some­times the wear is se­vere enough to change the way the bite fits to­gether, trig­ger­ing pain in jaw mus­cles. She says ice can be nice, but only if you let it melt in your mouth.


It’s true that al­co­hol in mod­er­a­tion may of­fer ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing the risk of di­a­betes, heart at­tack or stroke. Red wine, in par­tic­u­lar, con­tains com­pounds that seem to raise good choles­terol and boost your heart health. But if spread­ing out your drink­ing means you’re nurs­ing a sin­gle glass of wine for two hours, your teeth are be­ing con­stantly com­pro­mised.

It’s sim­i­lar to the prob­lem with




lemon wa­ter. “Sip­ping wine means an ex­po­sure to acid ev­ery time a sip is taken,” van Drie says. That’s not to say you should chug-a-lug, but do drink wa­ter when you’re hav­ing a glass of wine, or nib­ble on a piece of cheese to buf­fer the acid. And note that not all wines pose the same prob­lems for your teeth. “White wine has a higher PH and causes more and faster dam­age,” says van Drie. On the other hand, red can stain your pearly whites. Think­ing of switch­ing to car­bon­ated wa­ter in­stead? “Sparkling wa­ter is also acidic and can harm teeth when drunk con­stantly.”


Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada, ap­prox­i­mately one in five Cana­dian house­holds turns to bot­tles in­stead of taps as the main source of drink­ing wa­ter. Cer­tainly, wa­ter is a much bet­ter go-to bev­er­age than sug­ary pop or juice, but if bot­tled spring wa- ter is the only kind you drink, you might be miss­ing out on a po­ten­tial 25 per cent re­duc­tion in tooth de­cay.

Fluoridated tap wa­ter is en­dorsed by health or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. It’s well proven to re­duce tooth de­cay in both chil­dren and adults; it’s costeffective; and it’s safe (lev­els are low and mon­i­tored, and it’s im­pos­si­ble to drink enough tap wa­ter to reach flu­o­ride tox­i­c­ity).

“When you drink fluoridated wa­ter, it gets into your sys­tem, so your saliva has a low level of flu­o­ride in it that’s con­stantly ben­e­fit­ing your teeth,” says Swan. It’s es­pe­cially pro­tec­tive for older peo­ple with ex­posed root sur­face that’s more vul­ner­a­ble to de­cay.

Try to drink at least some tap wa­ter ev­ery day—you can use fil­ters, as long as they’re not the type that re­moves flu­o­ride. If you’re in a ru­ral area, have your wa­ter tested to find out its min­eral com­po­si­tion and then ad­just as needed.

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