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Bad Habits & Dental Health PDF Print E-mail
Habits are repetitive behaviors that we often do without thinking much about them. Some habits, such as brushing your teeth every morning, are healthy. Others can be damaging to your health.
Habits are behavior patterns, which we repeat so often, that they become ingrained. They often begin at an early age. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are doing them. At that point, our habits are said to be unconscious, and they are hard to break!

Damaging Habits Involving the Mouth

The following are descriptions of habits that may be damaging to your dental health.
  • Clenching Your Teeth. Except when chewing and swallowing, the teeth should not touch! Keeping the upper and lower teeth clenched together most of the time will tire out the muscles and wear down the teeth. It is good to remember this position: "Lips together – teeth apart." Keeping this position during the day and evening sounds easier than it is.
  • Biting fingernails, lips, or inside of cheeks
  • Frowning steadily
  • Chewing on pens, pencils, or gum
  • Supporting a pipe with the teeth rather than your hand
All of these habits specifically involve the mouth and disrupt the balance of muscular forces that control the growth and position of your teeth.

Muscles not only open and close your mouth, but they also control your lips, tongue, and cheeks. When all the muscles are pulling their equal weight, a balance of forces occur between the lips and cheeks on the outside, the tongue on the inside, and the teeth against each other. Anything that disrupts this balance, can actually move the teeth and result in an unstable bite. This can eventually cause your teeth to become cracked, loose, or even fall out! An unstable bite can also lead to symptoms such as jaw pain or headaches.

Damaging Habits Involving Your Posture

  • Carrying your head too far forward in front of your shoulders. A "forward head posture" is when the head is carried too far forward in front of the shoulders. Your head weights approximately 15 lbs. – the weight of an average bowling ball! With each inch forward, the strain of supporting the head triples. Not only does this strain the neck, back, and shoulders, but it also affects the jaw muscles and can even change your bite.
  • Sleeping on your stomach so that your head and neck are in a strained position
  • Carrying heavy shoulder bags, briefcases or purses
  • Cradling the telephone with your shoulder
  • Resting your chin in your hand
  • Watching TV (or anything else) with your head at a sharp angle, such as when lying in bed with your chin on your breastbone
  • Working at a surface that is too high
Most people do not equate posture with dental health. Poor posture, however, can throw your head and spine off balance in relation to gravity.

Bad posture places unnecessary wear and tear on your muscles and joints. It has a "chain reaction" effect up and down your body. Your head position will especially affect your chewing muscles. Muscles are stronger than teeth, and when they are strained they can cause the teeth to move, crack or chip. These poor postural habits can also eventually cause pain in the muscles of the jaw, head, neck and shoulders.

Changing Habits

The good news about habits is that they CAN be changed. This is up to you. Here are the "3 R’s" for breaking habits.
  1. Realize: The first step in changing any habit is to recognize you are already aware. Ask family members or friends to add to the list. Think about your habits in relation to how often you do them and under what circumstances. You may even chart this information for a week or two.
  2. Replace: When you notice you are engaging in a behavior which you want to stop, replace that behavior with something else. For instance, if you realize that you are clenching your teeth, take a deep breath and blow out of your mouth…allowing your jaw to relax. Sometimes it helps to use reminders that call your attention to the habit. Example: every time you hear the phone ring, or see the color blue, pay attention to whether or not you are clenching your teeth.
  3. Reinforce: Each time you stop a bad habit, congratulate yourself! Say to yourself, "I did it - great!" You may even identify other ways to reward yourself for the new behavior.
When Help is Needed

Not all habits can be changed through your own effort. Sometimes professional help is needed. If you have old habits that involve your mouth, such as clenching your teeth, the habits may actually have changed your bite. In this case, it would be very hard to change the habit without having the bite corrected by a dentist.

Habits that involve your posture, such as carrying your head too far forward, may eventually cause certain muscles to shorten. In this case, help from a physical therapist may be needed to relax and stretch those muscles. Therapeutic work with a chiropractor or physical therapist in conjunction with your dentist may also help to correct spinal imbalances.

If you experience any of the habits described, discuss them with your dentist at your next appointment. Your dentist will explain how they might damage your dental health and will evaluate whether or not any damage has already occurred.

Source: TMData Resources

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