We all know that we’re supposed to brush our teeth twice daily and floss regularly. But there’s more to protecting our pearly whites than the few minutes it takes us each day to clean them. A whole slew of different factors impacts our dental health, some of which might take you by surprise. Here’s what you should know about the different things that can mess with your teeth.
1. Slacking On Dentist Appointments
Yes, life gets busy—but not so busy that you can’t make time for a couple of quick check-ups in a year. The American Dental Association recommends visiting a dentist “regularly” for cleanings. For most people, that means every six months. If you’re at risk for gum disease, you may want to go more often.
2. Sipping On Sugary And Carbonated Beverages
Most people associate sweet foods with dental problems, but sugary drinks (think juice) are not only sweet but also acidic. “The acid is quite harmful and can wear down the tooth enamel, weakening it and leading to tooth erosion,” warns New Jersey-based orthodontist Marina Gonchar, D.M.D.
Read More: 5 Possible Reasons Why You’re Craving Sugar
There are plenty of reasons to minimize your consumption of sugary beverages, so consider your dental health another big one to add to the list. Gonchar recommends choosing water, milk, or freshly-squeezed vegetable juices whenever possible.
Another major bummer: Seltzer and other carbonated drinks aren’t all that great for your pearly whites, either. “Sparkling water and anything with bubbles is acidic and can break down the enamel,” explains Lauren Becker, D.D.S., P.C., general and cosmetic dentist in New York City.
It’s OK to enjoy your favorite bubbly drinks on occasion, of course. Just make sure those canned and bottled beverages don’t replace actual water, because that can lead to an array of tooth problems pretty quickly, Becker says.
It’s no new concept that smoking is bad for your health. We’ve all heard time and time again that it can lead to myriad diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung disease, and the list goes on. But in addition to all of these things, smoking is also pretty terrible for your teeth.
“Smoking can cause discoloration at best, and in the worst-case scenario, you begin to lose your teeth,” explains Mahnaz Rashti, D.D.S., a Beverly Hills-based periodontics practitioner. “This is a result of gum disease, which smoking causes because of all the bacteria and the film that coats your tooth.” There are so many reasons to avoid smoking—and to seek the support that’ll help you kick the habit if you already partake—and the health of your teeth is a big one.
4. Brushing Too Enthusiastically
Brushing your teeth with vigor might seem like a good thing—but brushing too hard could actually do more harm than good in the long run. “Aggressive brushing can cause your gums to begin receding, which also makes them bleed and more sensitive,” says Rashti. “It can also create abrasions on your tooth’s enamel. Believe it or not, the bristles on a toothbrush really can damage your enamel, which is the hardest tissue in the human body.”
She recommends monitoring your brushing for signs that you’re going overboard, which include worn-down bristles, receding gums, ultra-sensitive teeth, and tooth decay. This is also another reason that twice-yearly dental appointments are a good idea, as your dentist will likely give you a head’s up if they notice signs of aggressive brushing.
5. Hormonal changes
Our hormones influence so many functions throughout our body and aspects of our overall health, and though oral health isn’t often discussed as being one of them, it certainly is! In fact, many women notice that during pregnancy they experience increased gum swelling and bleeding. “Surges in estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy often lead to these issues—gum swelling, bleeding, and even gingivitis,” says Gonchar. To combat this, she recommends that pregnant women have professional dental cleanings completed every three months, floss more frequently, and use salt water rinses to eliminate some of the bacteria known to cause gingival inflammation.
6. Acid reflux
Acid reflux is incredibly common—and, in addition to messing with your digestion, it can also have a downstream effect on your teeth. “Uncontrolled acid reflux not only wreaks havoc on your esophagus, but can erode the enamel of your teeth, which can weaken your tooth structure, increase cavity formation, and increase tooth sensitivity,” warns Gonchar. Whether you’re a regular reflux sufferer or are just dealing with an unusual bout of indigestion, she recommends rinsing your mouth with water after each meal to help neutralize any acids that may have found their way into the oral cavity.