Senior Home Care Blog - Western Cook & Eastern DuPage Counties

7 Bad Dental Habits That Put Your Teeth at Risk

By Mary L. Doepke, RN

We all know that brushing and flossing are good dental habits. But there are other bad dental habits that might be harming your teeth.

As people age, caring for teeth is just as important as ever. Help protect your teeth, or the teeth of an aging loved one, by breaking these 7 bad dental habits.

Stop the Grind

If you consistently wake up with a headache or jaw pain, you might be clenching or grinding your teeth as you sleep.

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is often the result of stress, and the noisy habit is more than just a nuisance to others in the room. It can lead to jaw problems and worn or broken teeth.

If you suspect that you or a loved one has bruxism, see a dentist. A dentist might subscribe a mouth guard that prevents grinding and/or relaxes the jaw as you sleep. They might also suggest seeing a sleep therapist. Healthy sleep, including pre-sleep relaxation techniques, can be used to prevent or stop this unhealthy sleep habit.

Your Incisors Aren’t Scissors

Scissors are for opening packages and bags were made for holding things that don’t fit into our hands. These are not jobs for your teeth, and using them as a substitute can lead to trouble.

Using your teeth as tools for anything other than eating food can cause cracked or broken teeth. Depending on what you’re trying to maneuver with your incisors, you might also be introducing germs and bacteria into your body.

Water is Where It’s At

It’s not just the sugar, but also the acid that makes soda a bad match for a healthy mouth. The same goes for sports drinks and energy drinks, and even fruit juices.

It’s best to avoid such beverages altogether and to opt for water instead, but if you enjoy an occasional liquid treat, enjoy it with a straw. Using a straw will help to keep the liquid off your teeth.

Rinsing with water after drinking a sweet beverage is a good idea, but wait a half hour before brushing. Brushing too soon after might further subject teeth to the damaging effects of a soda’s acid, according to

Savor the Flavor

Those red-and-white striped mints and butterscotch discs can be double trouble for teeth.

Not only does sucking on these little discs of sugar bathe your teeth in the very stuff that causes cavities, crunching on hard candies could crack or damage your teeth.

To protect teeth, choose sugar-free candies and savor their flavor by sucking on them rather than chewing.

Go Alcohol-free

Mouth rinses are a great way to rid your mouth of bacteria that brushes and floss can’t reach, but mouthwashes containing alcohol can dry out the mouth, which already is a problem for many seniors.

Medications, chemotherapy and some medical conditions can lead to dry mouth, which can cause bad breath, tooth decay and gum problems. Severe dry mouth can even lead to problems with speaking and swallowing.

To help avoid dry mouth or aggravating an existing problem, switch to an alcohol-free mouth rinse. Dentists can even prescribe moisturizing rinses to combat the problem.

Move Beyond the Fray

Don’t try to save pennies by keeping a toothbrush beyond its useful life. If a toothbrush begins to fray or show other signs of use, it’s time for a new one.

The American Dental Association recommends replacing a toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are worn or the person has been ill. Those with a weakened immune system might want to switch brushes even more frequently.

Always opt for a soft-bristled brush, which is better for teeth and gums.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

Age in and of itself is not a cause of bad oral health, but when things like arthritis keep you or an aging loved one from being able to brush and floss properly, or the loss of a driver’s license keeps them from being able to drive to a dental appointment, it might be time to ask for help.

Home Helpers caregivers can help with activities of daily living, including brushing and flossing, and they can provide safe transportation from the client’s home to the dentist’s chair.