are repetitive behaviours, which we often do without thinking. Some
habits, such as brushing your teeth every morning, are healthy.
Others can be damaging to your health. This page explains habits,
which might specifically be damaging to your dental health. They
may surprise you!
Habits are behaviour patterns, which we repeat so
often, that they become ingrained. They often begin at an early
age. Sometimes we don't even realise that we are doing them. At
that point, our habits are said to be unconscious, and they are
hard to break!
The following describes habits, which may be damaging
to dental health. Check whether you do any of them.
habits involving the mouth
Clenching your teeth
Except when chewing and swallowing, the teeth should
never 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 - 'lips together - teeth apart'.
Biting fingernails, lips, or inside of cheeks
Chewing on pens, pencils, or gum
Supporting a pipe with the teeth rather than your hand
All of these 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
forces are pulling their equal weight, a balance of forces occurs
between the lips and cheeks on the outside, the tongue on the inside,
and the teeth against each other. Anything, which disrupts this
balance, can actually move the teeth and result in an unstable bite.
This can eventually cause your teeth to become cracked, or loose,
or even fallout! 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 weighs approximately
15 pounds - 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 could even change your bite.
Sleeping on your stomach so that
your head and neck are in a strained position
Carrying heavy shoulder bags 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 breast bone
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. This places unnecessary wear and tear on
your muscles and joints. Posture 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.
The good news about habits is that they CAN be changed. This is up to
you. Here are the 'three Rs' for breaking habits:
1. Realise: the first step in changing
any habit is to realise you're doing it. Write down those habits
you are already aware of. 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 behaviour, which you want to stop, replace the
behaviour was something else. For instance, if you realise that
your clenching your teeth, take a deep breath and blow out of
your mouth ….. allow your jaw to relax. Sometimes it helps to
use reminders to call your attention to the habit. For instance,
every time you hear the phone ring, or see the colour blue, pay
attention to whether or not you're clenching your teeth.
3. Reinforce: each time you stop
your habit - congratulate yourself! Say to yourself, 'I did it
- great!' You may even identify other ways to reward yourself
without having the bite corrected by the dentist.
What Help is Needed?
Not all habits can be changed through your own effort. Sometimes
professional help is needed. If you have old habits, which involve
your mouth, such as clenching your teeth, they may have changed your
bite. It would be very hard to change the habit without having the bite
corrected by a dentist.
Habits, which 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 in conjunction with your
dentist may also help to correct spinal imbalances.
If you checked any of the habits described on this page, 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.