The Horrible Habits Dentists Want You to Stop Doing Now

Dental experts have warned against bad oral hygiene habits that people think are a good idea—but are actually causing harm.

"Whether you are 80 or eight, your oral health is important," Roopali Kulkarni, a trained dentist, assistant director of the postgraduate oral medicine program at Penn Dental Medicine, and spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA), told Newsweek.

"Your mouth is a window into the health of your body and touches every aspect of our lives.

"It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection. Systemic diseases, those that affect the entire body, may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other oral problems."

How many teeth do humans have?

Humans develop two sets of teeth over our lifetimes. Babies are usually born with 20 baby teeth, although these don't start appearing—or erupting—until the age of about six months old.

Usually by the age of three, the full set of 20 teeth has erupted, and commonly by around 12 years of age, all of the baby teeth have fallen out.

Each of these baby teeth falls out a different time and, eventually, they are replaced by an adult tooth. In total, adult humans generally develop 32 teeth—including eight incisors, four canines, eight premolars, and 12 molars—which all erupt by the late teens or early twenties.

Adult teeth begin to develop in the jaws at birth, and this development continues as the person grows older. The last of the adult teeth to erupt tend to be the wisdom teeth, which are a type of molar. In some people, the wisdom teeth have to be removed because they cause problems. For others, the wisdom teeth never even develop in the first place, or simply don't erupt.

Bad habits for teeth?

Among the most common oral hygiene habits that could be having a negative effect are brushing too hard or using a toothbrush that is too hard, according to Kulkarni.

woman dentist teeth
Stock image of a woman needing dental treatment. "Your mouth is a window into the health of your body and touches every aspect of our lives," dentist Roopali Kulkarni told Newsweek. Getty Images

Either of these habits could potentially cause damage to both the teeth and the gums, leading to problems ranging from enamel wearing away to receding gums.

Individuals who brush too hard, or use a brush that is too hard, may also start to notice that their teeth become more sensitive because parts are exposed that have previously been covered by the gums.

Instead of using a hard toothbrush, or brushing too hard, use a soft one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance at the proper pressure. Kulkarni said: "Don't think scrub. Think massage."

Food stuck in teeth

The Oral Health Foundation (OHF)—a U.K.-based non-profit—says using cocktail sticks to remove bits of food between the teeth can be quite harmful to the mouth and gums.

In fact, sticking anything between your teeth that is not ergonomically designed to fit in these spaces—like an interdental brush—can be relatively dangerous, according to information provided to Newsweek by the helpline.

A 2016 poll by the OHF found the most commonly used items for cleaning in between teeth (beyond brushing and flossing) were cocktail sticks (39 percent), business cards (10 percent) and bank notes (4 percent).

cocktail stick teeth
Stock image of a man using a cocktail stick to clean his teeth. People should only use floss to pick food out of the gaps between their teeth, dentists say. Getty Images

In an interview with dentistry.co.uk, OHF CEO Dr. Nigel Carter said: "Reaching for an earring or business card may be convenient, or even sound amusing, but is actually very concerning. Items such as this can easily damage the tooth and do real harm to the gums, as well as risking infection by being incredibly unhygienic.

"Our gums can be very sensitive and once damaged take a long time to recover, so please put those bank notes down, you really don't know where they have been, and make sure you keep some dental floss on hand just in case you need it."

If you have food trapped between your teeth, use either dental floss or an interdental brush to remove it rather than a cocktail stick.

At-home teeth whitening

Some people use a mixture of lemon juice and pure bicarbonate of soda as a homemade teeth-whitener, which can damage your enamel—the hard, shiny, white outer layer of the teeth.

This is a really bad idea. Damaged enamel means that your teeth become far more sensitive and more prone to developing cavities.

In an article for Gentle Dentistry, Dr. Stephanie Busch-Abbate said: "It's a myth that you can safely whiten teeth with lemon juice and baking soda. Unlike toothpaste, baking soda is abrasive and will wear away your tooth enamel over time. Likewise, lemon juice is too acidic to sit on the surface of your teeth."

teeth whitening
Stock image showing a popular at-home recipe for teeth whitening. Dentists say using lemon and bicarbonate of soda is not a good what to achieve white teeth. Getty Images

Busch-Abbate also said there is no evidence to suggest oil pulling, where you swish edible oil around the mouth, helps whiten teeth. "It's important to understand that many factors affect teeth whitening, such as smoking, eating staining foods, and neglecting oral health," she wrote. "While it may appear that oil pulling helps whiten teeth, the difference could be due to something simpler like reducing how much coffee you drink."

When it comes to teeth-whitening, make sure you get the procedure done by a licensed dental professional.

Treating ulcers and toothache

Clove oil is sometimes uses an antiseptic and for dulling pain from a tooth or ulcer. While it is true that dentists have used clove oil, it is always highly diluted and applied by a trained professional.

One study published in 2016 showed clove oil could be used to help manage pain.

An article on drugs.com says clove is often sold as a herbal supplement, of which there are no regulated manufacturing standards.

Common side effects for people who use clove inside of the mouth include sore or swollen gums, bleeding and mouth irritation. People who have liver disease, a weak immune system, allergies or a blood clotting or bleeding disorder should speak to their doctor before using clove.

How often should you change your toothbrush?

To maintain good oral hygiene, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends, brushing your teeth twice every day with a fluoride toothpaste, while ensuring to clean between the teeth every day.

Changing your toothbrush regularly is a must.

According to the ADA, you should replace your toothbrush—or toothbrush head, if you have an electric one—every three to four months, or more frequently if the bristles become matted or frayed. The more worn a toothbrush is, the less effective it will be as a tool for cleaning your teeth.

While research has shown that toothbrushes harbor bacteria, the available evidence suggests these microbes are not usually harmful to us.