Toothpicks, Ice Chewing and Other Bad Habits

We all have bad habits.  Some of these just waste our time, but others can actually be harmful.  In dentistry, we worry about habits that can damage your teeth and gums.  This blog will highlight some of the most common bad habits we see and the damage they can cause.


Good old fashioned wooden toothpicks are a bad habit, as far as your teeth and gums are concerned.  Many patients use toothpicks to dislodge food that is stuck between the teeth.  Others just like to hold a toothpick in the mouth and chew on it for a awhile.  Now matter how a toothpick is used, it is not appropriate inside your mouth.

Wood is brittle and easily splinters.  These splinters can become embedded in the gum tissue, creating major inflammation.  If left in place, they can lead to severe gum infections.  Dentists remove splinters from infected gum tissue on a regular basis.  Severe cases require additional gum treatments to help your tissue heal!

It is also abrasive to the tooth.  Over time, repeated friction between a wooden toothpick and the tooth at the gum line will actually remove tooth structure.  In general, people use toothpicks in an area we call a “black triangle”.  When gums recede and no longer fill in the space between two teeth, there is an air gap between the teeth and the gums, usually in the shape of a triangle.  This is a perfect spot for food to hang out.  It also seems like a perfect spot for a toothpick.

Repeated use of a toothpick will alter the shape of this black triangle until it perfectly fits that toothpick.  All tooth structure is precious and should be preserved at all costs.  Don’t use toothpicks!

Ice Chewing

We know.  You don’t even think about it.  You just chew your ice as a habit.  This habit can lead to big dental problems and expensive dental treatment!

Ice chewing is bad for your teeth for two reasons.

  1. The hard, brittle nature of ice requires too much force from the teeth to break it. Chewing ice greatly increases your risk for cracking your teeth.
  2. The temperature difference between ice and your mouth’s natural temperature causes cracks. Just like a sharp temperature change on your glass windshield can create cracks, the difference in the temperature of your mouth and the ice you chew creates small cracks in the enamel.  This weakens your tooth and makes it more susceptible to larger fractures and cavities.

People who chew ice are very likely to crack their teeth.  At the very least, cracked teeth require a dental crown.  At the most, a crack can go all the way to the root of a tooth, forcing your dentist to extract the tooth!  Don’t chew ice!

Smokeless Tobacco

Smokeless tobacco like chewing tobacco or dipping snuff can kill you.  This is more important than damage to your teeth and gums.

Tobacco causes oral cancer. 

In addition to cancer, smokeless tobacco also causes staining and erosion on your teeth.  Don’t use smokeless tobacco!

Nail Biting

There are two big reasons nail biting is bad for you.

  1. It introduces more bacteria into your mouth. Our hands and fingernails are dirty!  You never want to introduce this bacteria and dirt into your mouth.
  2. It puts improper forces onto the front teeth, making them weaker and more likely to chip and break.

Biting your nails can lead to jagged edges at the bottom of your front teeth.  Not only does this look bad, it can also be expensive to fix.  Don’t bite your fingernails!

Using Your Teeth as Tools

We are constantly repairing patients’ teeth that have been chipped or broken from using their teeth as tools.  Hairdressers often hold hair pins between their teeth.  Fishermen use their front teeth to cut fishing line.  People use their teeth to tear open packages of fruit snacks for their children.  The possibilities are almost endless.

Teeth are not tools.  When we use them as such, we run the risk of breaking them, requiring extensive and expensive dental treatment for repair.  Commit to using your teeth only for their proper tasks: eating, speaking, smiling!  Don’t use your teeth as tool!

Do You Have Questions about Another Habit that Could Affect Your Teeth?

Call 940-382-1750 today to set up a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer all of your questions about what a specific habit could do to your teeth and gums.

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