7 Things That Are Secretly Ruining Your Teeth

Photographed by Brayden Olsen.
We certainly hope that you — presumably an adult — have mastered the art of brushing your teeth. But there are plenty of other less-obvious things you can do to keep those pearly whites healthy and happy. And it all comes down to effectively managing bacteria.
"You have hundreds of bacteria in your mouth," says Julie Cho, DMD, a dentist based in NYC. "They use sugar as food and produce acid that eats away at the enamel." But your saliva acts as a natural irrigation system to wash most of that away before it causes a problem.
That means anything you do that increases the amount of sugar or acid in your mouth (e.g. slurping down sugary sodas) or dries your mouth out (e.g. snoring) has the potential to cause damage to your teeth, Dr. Cho explains. It also might give you a nasty case of bad breath.
Luckily, your dentist can spot that decay forming a mile away. And she can help you figure out ways to do what you love without ruining your smile.
Ahead, we talked to Dr. Cho about seven surprising sources of tooth damage — and how to avoid 'em.
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Your Workout

When you're working out, you're probably going to be breathing with your mouth open, which can dry your mouth out. That, on its own, probably isn't going to be such a big deal, says Dr. Cho. But if that dryness combines with the acidity and sugariness of a sports drink or the stickiness of an energizing gel, your teeth can definitely become more susceptible to decay.

So you're much better off sticking with mid- and post-workout water if you can, or at least drinking some after eating that gel to get it off your teeth. But Dr. Cho says that tap water is a better option than bottled water because it will contain fluoride, which can help remineralize and repair your enamel. You could also try sucking on a sugar-free mint to get your saliva flowing.

And weightlifters have another concern to watch out for: teeth clenching. That's why Dr. Cho recommends that her patients who like to #LiftHeavy wear a protective mouthguard during their workouts.
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In addition to preventing your partner from getting decent sleep, snoring can also make your teeth more vulnerable to decay — especially if you're a mouth-breather. That's because it seriously dries out your mouth.

Not all snoring is a sign of an underlying condition, but it can be a symptom of sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. So it's a good idea to get your snoring checked out if you're at all concerned about it. Getting your snoring under control has the added benefit of keeping your teeth nice and protected at night.

But don't forget about grinding! Dr. Cho says this is another major source of tooth damage that happens while you're asleep. If you wake up with aching jaw muscles, you just might be a tooth-grinder. You can deal with it by making a nightguard for yourself using a drugstore boil-and-bite kit or getting a customized one from your dentist.
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There are tons of medications that can cause dry mouth and, therefore, make tooth decay more likely, says Dr. Cho. That includes antidepressants, allergy medications, and pain medications. A good reason to let your dentist know about any meds you're taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter.
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Sparkling Water — Maybe

There is some research that suggests that drinking sparkling water can harm your teeth. But this one is still a little up in the air, so don't get too worried.

"If you consume enormous amounts, maybe over time it will destroy your teeth," says Dr. Cho. What people are really worried about is the carbonic acid in seltzer. But it turns out that's actually a pretty weak acid, Dr. Cho explains. "Soda is much more corrosive than carbonated water."

So, in general, you don't need to be too concerned — especially if you're using this fizzy drink as a replacement for one loaded with sugar. But if you're drinking only sparkling water, it might be worth it to minimize the length of time that water is in contact with your teeth or to just drink it through a straw.
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Chewing Ice

"I always advise against [chewing ice]," says Dr. Cho. "It seems like common sense, but people do it." Chewing on ice, hard candy, or other similar foods can damage and even break teeth. So, seriously, try to skip it.
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Tongue Piercings

These may be cute, but they can also be bad news for your teeth. "You have a foreign substance in your mouth," says Dr. Cho, and it can crack or even break your teeth if you're not careful. It's especially dangerous if that piercing is closer to the tip of your tongue, where it might be constantly clacking against the back of your front teeth.

If you do have a tongue piercing, Dr. Cho says her mouthguard-while-exercising recommendation goes double for you: It's far too easy to inadvertently chomp down on your piercing during an intense workout and crack a tooth in the process.
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Acid Reflux

This one's in the name: Untreated acid reflux means stomach acid is making its way up your esophagus and, potentially, into your mouth.

"You get pitting in your teeth as it wears away the enamel, usually in the back molars," says Dr. Cho. The effects are so obvious that dentists can actually diagnose you with the condition (although they'll still send you to a gastroenterologist or internist after). You might also notice that your teeth are becoming more sensitive to cold air and foods.