*Toothbrush: When was the last time you swapped out your toothbrush? The American Dental Association recommends changing it every three to four months.

*Toothpaste: Many of us stock up on more toothpaste than we ever need and find that we’re left with a couple tubes past the expiration date. Toss them! Expired toothpaste isn’t harmful but your teeth may not be as protected compared to brushing with a fresh bottle. Most toothpaste is good for up to two years.

6 Habits That Harm Your Teeth (And How to Break Them)

*Nail Biting
The habit: This nervous habit can chip teeth and impact your jaw. “Placing your jaw for long periods of time in a protruding position can place pressure on it, which is associated with jaw dysfunction,” says Dr. Ruchi Sahota.
The solution: Bitter-tasting nail polishes, stress reduction and setting small, realistic goals can help. If certain situations are triggers, hold something to keep your fingers busy.

*Brushing Too Hard
The habit: Brushing for two minutes twice a day is one of the best habits you can get into. Just make sure you’re not trying too hard. “Brushing with a hard toothbrush, or brushing too hard, can damage teeth and irritate gums,” says Dr. Matthew Messina.
The solution: Use a soft toothbrush with the ADA Seal of Acceptance at the proper pressure. “Don’t think ‘scrub.’ Think ‘massage,’” he says. “Save the hard toothbrush for cleaning the grout in the bathroom tile.”

*Grinding and Clenching
The habit: “This can cause chipping or cracking of the teeth, as well as muscle tenderness or joint pain,” Dr. Messina says. “You might also feel like you can’t open your mouth wide or chew with pain.”
The solution: “Relaxation exercises and staying aware makes a difference,” he says. A nighttime mouthguard can also help. “You’ll have less tooth damage, less pain and muscle soreness and better sleep.”

*Chewing Ice Cubes
The habit: “Tooth enamel is a crystal. Ice is a crystal. When you push two crystals against each other, one will break,” Dr. Messina says. “Most of the time it’s the ice, but sometimes the tooth or a filling will break.”
The solution: Drink chilled beverages without ice, or use a straw so you’re not tempted. “The risk of chewing ice is greater than any pleasure that comes from chewing it,” he says. “Besides, ice is really cold!”

*Constant Snacking
The habit: Grazing all day, especially on sugary foods and drinks, puts you at a higher risk for cavities. When you eat, cavity-causing bacteria feast leftover food, producing an acid that attacks the outer shell of your teeth.
The solution: Eat balanced meals to feel fuller, longer. If you need a snack, make sure it’s low in fat and sugar. If you indulge in the occasional sugary treat, follow it with a big glass of water to wash away leftover food.

*Using Your Teeth As Tools

The habit: Your teeth were made for eating, not to stand in as a pair of scissors or hold things when your hands are full. When you do this, you put yourself at a higher risk of cracking your teeth, injuring your jaw or accidentally swallowing something you shouldn’t.
The solution: Stop and find something or someone to give you a hand. Your mouth will thank you.

Here’s Why Breathing Through Your Mouth Is Really Bad For You

Breathing through your mouth, rather than your nose, can come with a host of unpleasant symptoms. Here’s how it affects you—and what you can do about it.

What is mouth breathing?
Though mouth breathing happens for different reasons in adults and children, the culprit is usually a nasal obstruction. When we breathe normally through the nose, the air we take in is warmed and moistened before it gets to our lungs. If a person has difficulty breathing through the nose, however, he or she is forced to take in cold, dry air through the mouth.

What causes it?
Essentially an incorrect form of respiration, mouth breathing can happen for a number of reasons. “Some kids do it out of habit,” explains Dr. Veronique Benhamou, director of periodontology at McGill University in Montreal. “Their bite may be off, or the position of the jaw and teeth may be such that when they sleep, their lips don’t quite close.”A child may also suffer from abnormally large tonsils, which can obstruct breathing.
Dr. Harry Hoediono, president of the Ontario Dental Association, says mouth breathing may also occur as a result of a birth defect, like a deviated septum, that may make it more difficult to breathe through the nose. “It could even be a skeletal deformity that has never been picked up on, but that makes it easier for someone to breathe if they lean forward and breathe through their mouth,” he explains. Dr. Hoediono also says that some people, especially older people, can end up mouth breathing as a result of taking medication, a condition called xerostomia. “In these cases, the dryness can be painful. It can feel like the mouth is burning,” he says. Mouth breathing can also develop after glands are damaged during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Why is it a problem?
One of the most common side effects of mouth breathing is an excessively dry mouth. Under normal conditions, saliva continuously washes bacteria from the mouth. If your mouth is dry, however, that bacteria can more readily take hold and cause problems like cause problems like cavities. “That’s because dry membranes are easier to invade,” explains Dr. Hoediono.

In children, mouth breathing can also lead to permanent skeletal deformities. That’s because it promotes the growth of the upper jaw, rather than the lower jaw. “The result is a large overbite and a gummy smile.”

Dr. Hoediono says that mouth breathing can also cause sleep difficulties, causing people to wake in the night if they aren’t getting enough oxygen. In children, lack of sleep may reduce their ability to pay attention and concentrate at school, which may be mistaken for attention deficit disorder. In adults, mouth breathing can be related to sleep apnea, which causes people to wake frequently at night. “You can end up feeling exhausted the next day,” says Dr. Hoediono. (Here are eight tips that can help you sleep better in a single day.)

Signs of mouth breathing
Dr. Benhamou says that while a natural mouth breather may be able to stave off dryness by remoistening the mouth throughout the day, it will get dry overnight. “Because you are breathing through your mouth all night, you dry out the soft tissues,” she explains. Mouth breathers often have chronically red and inflamed gums, even if their oral health is otherwise good. Adults may also find they have bleeding gums, or may get frequent cavities. Dr. Hoediono says another sign is if the back of your throat feels dry and itchy when you wake up, or there’s a burning sensation. ‘When you wake up, put a finger over one nostril and try to breathe in while keeping your mouth closed, and then try it on the other side. Any difficulty inhaling could indicate a problem with blocked nasal passageways.Because it is so drying, mouth breathing can also cause chronic bad breath. “People tell me they brush their teeth constantly or they chew gum, but the bad breath is still there,” says Dr. Hoediono.

What to do if you’re a mouth breather
Dr. Benhamou says it’s important to determine why the mouth breathing is happening before you can correct it. “If the cause is huge tonsils, then removing them might be an option,” she says. If the problem is structural and a child can’t, for example, close his lips over flared front teeth, then the solution may be orthodontic treatment.

Using a humidifier while sleeping can help ease mouth dryness, as can replenishing with lots of fluids (here are some tips for choosing a humidifier). Dr. Benhamou sometimes suggests patients rub a small amount of vitamin E oil on their gums before bedtime to keep them from drying out overnight.

Dr. Hoediono says a thorough dental exam will help determine whether mouth breathing is a problem. It’s also important for parents to look for signs of mouth breathing in children, so the problem can be corrected before it worsens. “I had a mother bring a child in,” he recalls. “She had parched gums, a dry mouth, an overbite and an obstruction of the nasal passages,” a classic mouth breather. “I referred her to a doctor and they sent her for surgery. They removed a nasal obstruction, and not long after, she was feeling better and doing better at school!”



6 Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Sugary Snacking

Girl choosing between healthy snack and unhealthy snack When working with her young patients, pediatric dentist and ADA spokesperson Dr. Mary Hayes teaches them this simple, but important, rhyme: “Sugar is fun to eat, but not good for your teeth!”

That’s because your child might love sweet treats, but the bacteria in his or her mouth loves them even more. “Sucrose (sugar) is the ‘food’ for the bacteria that cause tooth decay,” Dr. Hayes says. “Those bacteria produce acid that etches away the teeth.”

Limiting the amount of sugar your entire family eats is good for your teeth and key to your overall health. Here are some dentist-recommended ways to start saying good-bye to unnecessary sugar throughout the day.

Know the Limits

When choosing a snack, keep an eye on added sugar (sweeteners like corn syrup or white sugar that are added to prepared foods). Naturally occurring sugars are less worrisome, as they are found in healthy choices like milk and fruit.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people age 3 and older should consume no more than 12.5 tsp. each day of added sugar. (The same as one can of soda.) The World Health Organization states that adults should consume no more than 6 tsp. of added sugar, and children should have no more than 3 tsp.

When reading labels, you’ll see sugar is listed in grams. Since 1 tsp. of sugar equals 4 grams, aim to make sure the foods you are feeding your child fall between 12 to 50 grams a day.

The Truth About Juice

Because juice is high in sugar and calories, water and milk are always the best options for your little one. In fact, if your child is under 1 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests completely removing juice from his or her diet.

Older children can occasionally drink juice, but if they do, there are two things to remember:
Children ages 1-6 should have no more than 4-6 oz. of juice each day, according to pediatric guidelines. Children ages 7 to 18 should drink no more than 8-12 oz. (Many juice boxes are about 6 oz., so younger children should have no more than one per day, and older children no more than two.)
Allowing your child to sip on juice throughout the day puts him or her at higher risk for tooth decay because you’re giving that cavity-causing bacteria more opportunities to eat and produce the acid that eats away at teeth. This can also happen with juice that is watered down. “Even though the volume of sugar has decreased, you’ve added the time that it takes to drink it,” says ADA spokesperson Dr. Jonathan Shenkin.
So what’s a parent to do? Limit the amount of juice your children drink, and always offer water or milk first. If your child does drink juice, serve the recommended, age-appropriate limits at mealtimes only. When your family is done eating, clean up any leftover juice instead of letting your children leave the table with it.

Skip the Soda

Call it soda, call it pop. But sugary, carbonated beverages by any name are bad news for your child’s teeth. “One can of soda is the amount of sugar recommended for three days for a child,” Dr. Hayes says.

In fact, a February 2016 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found a strong association between sugary drinks and poor dental health in teenagers. Researchers asked teens 14-19 in Mexico about how many sugary beverages they drank, then examined their teeth. They found 31.7% had tooth erosion, which means their enamel had been eaten away. The main culprit? Soda.

Be Picky About Sticky Snacks

If you’ve been under the impression that gummy or sticky fruit snacks are healthy alternatives, you’re not alone. Many parents are surprised to learn they are really closer to candy than fruit, especially when it comes to sugar. “Fruit rollups and other dried fruit snacks are like nature’s candy,” Dr. Shenkin says. “It is like candy, but in some respect it’s worse than candy because it sticks to teeth longer than things like milk chocolate, which is easier to wash away.”

Even foods like raisins, which are often promoted as an all-natural snack option, can be troublesome. “The raisin is one of the worst foods because they’re so sticky and they actually adhere to teeth and stay there for an extended amount of time,” he says. “The sugar in that food is being consumed by the bacteria in our mouth during that time.”

Serve Carbs with Care

Whether it’s the crunch or the fact that they’re shaped like their favorite animals, kids love crackers and chips. The truth? “Many crackers are cookies with salt,” Dr. Hayes says. Not only do the carbohydrates in things like crackers and chips break down into sugar, they also tend to get stuck in the tops of your teeth for long periods of time.

Set an Example

You’d do anything for your kids. Now, are you ready to do all of the above for yourself too? Dr. Shenkin says setting an example can make a big difference in your whole family’s health. Eat well, brush twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day. “If you want to change your child’s habits, it isn’t just about what they do,” he says. “Do the same thing with them.”