health

The nine things a dentist wishes you'd stop doing to your teeth.

Whether it’s stumbling into bed without brushing, or going months (ahem, years) between dentist appointments, we all have some naughty habits that aren’t so great for our teeth.

Unlike sharks, humans don’t have countless rows of teeth to rely on, so it’s wise to look after the ones we have.

To help you out, we asked Sydney-based dentist Dr Jenna Cutting to get honest about the things dental experts wish we’d stop doing to our mouths.

1. Rinsing your mouth straight after brushing your teeth.

Hands up if you were told to always swish some water around your mouth after brushing? You wouldn’t be the only one, but it’s actually not great for your teeth.

“It’s best to spit the excess toothpaste out and leave a little on the teeth without rinsing. That way, the fluoride in the toothpaste will be able to stay on the teeth and help to mineralise and strengthen the enamel,” Dr Cutting explains.

“It can even reverse very tiny cavities, called incipient lesions, on the teeth.”

Be gentle. (Image: Universal Studios)

2. Brushing aggressively when you're in a rush (or, um, forgot to brush 12 hours ago)

You want to clean your teeth well, but vigorous brushing can result in two big problems: abrasion and recession.

"Abrasion is where the excess force on the tooth causes the outer protective layers of the tooth to be removed," Dr Cutting explains.

"This exposes the inner layer of the tooth, called dentine. When dentine is exposed there is an increased risk of developing tooth decay and can cause sensitivity to cold and touch."

Recession is the result of the gum being brushed too hard or in the wrong direction, which causes it to lower its position on the tooth and expose the root surface.

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"This area is very prone to abrasion and the nasty side effects that come with it," Dr Cutting adds.

Watch: There's one question Mia Freedman is always asked about her teeth... (Post continues after video.)

3. Brushing with hard or 'medium' brushes.

Repeat after me: a soft toothbrush is your friend.

Dr Jenna says a hard brush is going to be too abrasive for your teeth and gums, and can cause the same issues as aggressive brushing. In other words: cool your jets.

4. Sipping on lemon water all day.

Celebrities are obsessed with lemon water. Miranda Kerr, Gwyneth Paltrow and more have waxed lyrical about starting their day with a glass of the stuff.

It might deliver a kick, but Dr Cutting warns against sipping on lemon water — or any acidic or sugary drink — over prolonged periods.

"One important factor that is often overlooked is the time that the drink is in contact with the teeth, rather than the quantity consumed," she says.

Delicious, yes — but be careful. (Image: iStock)

"If you sip constantly, the mouth will be made acidic each time, which can cause cavities and acid erosion on the teeth."

If you simply can't go without your beloved citrus drink, she recommends drinking it all in one go. Otherwise, opt for regular H2O.

5. Brushing straight after your sugary or acidic food or drink

That's the other thing you should know about lemon water: it's not wise to brush your teeth immediately after drinking it. Even if your intentions are good.

"When you have sugary or acidic food or drink, such as citrus fruit, sweets or soft drink, the mineral is being stripped from the outer layer of your tooth from the low pH (i.e. acidity) and bacterial activity," Dr Cutting explains.

"The enamel is now weakened and if you brush straight away, you can cause damage to your enamel." (Post continues after gallery.)

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 6. Assuming your mouth is OK because you're not experiencing any pain.

A sore tooth or mouth tends to be a surefire sign you need to see a dentist, but Dr Cutting says there are plenty of issues requiring treatment that don't cause any pain in the early stages.

"Small to moderate cavities in the teeth don’t involve the nerve of the tooth, so often don’t cause any pain at all. The same goes for earlier stages of periodontitis (gum disease) and oral cancer," she explains.

"Treating issues like these in the early stages is much less complex and time consuming."

Be aware, not alarmed.

Don't put it off. Image: iStock

7. Ditching your retainer.

Yep, everyone who lived through the high school rite that is braces could see this one coming a mile away.

If you need a refresher, here it is: ditching your orthodontic retainer because your braces came off years ago is not a good move.

"Your mouth and face continue to change shape over time. If you don’t wear your retainer and don’t have a fixed retainer after orthodontic treatment it is very likely your teeth will move," Dr Cutting says.

"Most people will notice at least the lower front teeth becoming crooked again if retainer wear is stopped. For this reason it is best to continue wearing it." (Post continues after gallery.)

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8. Avoiding the dentist because it’s been... well, several years.

Leaving years between dentist appointments is enough to make any of us feel sheepish. (Trust me, I'm in this position right now.)

Other people might avoid booking in because they're anxious about being in the chair, or embarrassed about the state of their teeth.

Whatever the reason, there's something Dr Cutting wants you to know: dentists have seen everything. Everything. And they won't judge you.

"We would rather you come in rather than keep waiting. You are completely unremarkable," she says. In the best way possible, of course.

"I am used to helping people with decaying teeth, metal fillings, missing teeth, broken fillings, gum disease, dentures, ulcers, blisters, wobbly teeth or no teeth. I like to focus on getting patients out of pain, then restoring their oral health, and then trying some new measures to keep the mouth healthy."

See? There's nothing scary about Dr Jenna Cutting. (Image: Supplied)

When it comes to patients feeling anxious, Dr Cutting likes to establish the source of these feelings — whether it be a bad past experience, or a fear that's been passed on from their parents — and then work with the patient to make the experience more positive.

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"I really do understand what it is like for phobic patients. For 20 years I had a severe needle phobia. It took a lot of patience, time and coaxing but I got through it," she says.

"I know I can help my patients do the same with their dental phobia."

9. Forgetting SPF for your lips.

OK, so this one doesn't relate to your teeth specifically, but it's just as important.

When you're dutifully applying your sunscreen as you do every morning (... don't you?), be sure to give your lips a bit of SPF coverage. As Dr Cutting points out, oral cancer rates in Australia are unfortunately high, with the most common area affected being the lip.

Don't forget your lips. (Image: iStock)

"Sun damage on the lips can lead to nasty skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Therefore, it’s important to use a broad spectrum product containing SPF if you are outdoors a lot," she says.

"If you do have anything unusual, like an ulcer or scab, show up on your lip that stays for more than two weeks you should have it checked at your dentist or doctor."

Did any of this surprise you?

Dr Jenna Cutting is a dentist based in Sydney. You can follow her work and get in touch via her Facebook page or Instagram (@jennathedentist).

Featured image: iStock

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