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Teeth are Not Tools

Teeth perform many important functions: chewing food, speaking, supporting the lips and cheeks, etc . . . They are made to do many things.  Acting as a tool is not one of them.

Hairdressers often use their teeth to hold bobby pins.  Fishermen use teeth to cut fishing line.  Moms use their teeth to frantically tear open packages of fruit snacks for their crying toddlers.  And our personal favorite, some oenophiles use their teeth to pull a cork out of a bottle of wine.

Most people think their teeth are strong enough to handle such tasks (not true).  Others think teeth are meant to take on these tough jobs (also not true). Regardless of your reason, teeth are not tools, and they should not be used as such.

Damage from Using Teeth as Tools

In general, a healthy tooth will not chip or break during normal function.  What is normal function?  Chewing food and speaking.  That’s it.

What’s even more interesting is that during the normal functions of chewing and speaking, the teeth do not touch.  During chewing, food separates the teeth.  The teeth are naturally separated during normal speech.  This fact explains why teeth are not damaged during normal function.

Abnormal use of the teeth will damage them.  We see chipped and broken teeth on a daily basis.  A normal healthy tooth can break when you use it for the wrong thing.  Torquing and twisting motions are particularly bad.

The risk of damage goes up exponentially when the tooth is not normal and healthy. 

Teeth with cavities are weaker and have less enamel.  They will readily chip with even a small amount of force.  Teeth with gum disease can shift, move, or even become loose when you try to pull out a wine cork.  If a tooth has a large filling or crown, using it as a tool can pull out the filling or cause the crown to fall off. If you have porcelain veneers, opening a bobby pin can pop them off of your tooth.

If you have any dental work on your front teeth, the risk is high for chipping, breaking or dislodging something important when you use your teeth as tools.  Dental work repairs damage done by decay or fractures.  However, teeth with dental work like fillings and crowns are never as strong as healthy, strong teeth with intact enamel.  According to Murphy’s Law, this will happen on a Friday night or Christmas Eve or just as you get on your flight to Hawaii.

Repairing the Damage

So let’s say that you did not know all of the previous information and you have been using your teeth as tools.  What is involved in the repair process?

That depends on the extent of the damage.  Some minor chips in the teeth are simply repaired with a tooth colored filling.  A broken crown or veneer requires complete replacement because porcelain cannot be repaired.

Some teeth sustain severe damage requiring surgical treatment, like removal of the tooth and replacement with a dental implant.

If you damage your teeth from using them as tools, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.  Cracked teeth are weaker and more likely to crack or break even further.  Areas where enamel has chipped away expose the inner structure of the tooth to cavity-causing bacteria.

Early treatment is always less extensive and less expensive than waiting until the problem is unbearable.

Preventing Further Damage

  • Wear a Custom Night Guard – Many of our patients have teeth weakened by nighttime clenching or grinding. These extreme forces create fractures or cracks in the enamel.  This makes these teeth more susceptible to damage from seemingly minor actions, like opening a bag of chips with your teeth.  Wearing a night guard prevents the weakening forces of nighttime grinding, helping to keep your enamel strong and intact.
  • Prevent Cavities – Cavities also weaken the teeth. They destroy enamel, which is the body’s hardest structure.  Once bacteria penetrate through the enamel with a cavity, the enamel’s integrity and strength has been compromised.  Teeth with cavities are very likely to chip and break with any amount of force.  You can prevent cavities with great oral hygiene at home, consistent visits with your dentist and dental hygienist, a low sugar/low acid diet, and compliance with any specific recommendations of your dentist.  Some people have a high cavity risk, which makes damage much more likely.  Know your cavity risk by discussing these things with Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren at your next visit.
  • Prevent Gum Disease – Gum disease weakens the bone around the teeth. By preventing gum disease, you are supporting the strong foundation of the teeth.  You can prevent gum disease by staying on schedule with professional teeth cleanings, flossing every night, brushing twice a day, and following the recommendations made by Phyllis and Nancy.  Our dental hygienists have decades of experience in educating patients in the proper way to clean their teeth.  Ask Phyllis and Nancy for customized recommendations for your specific problem areas.
  • STOP USING YOUR TEETH AS TOOLS! – Well, this one is a no-brainer. You can prevent the damage that occurs from using your teeth as tools by not using your teeth as tools.  Paint your fingernails with that gross-tasting polish to keep you from biting them.  Start wearing lipstick that will smudge if you try to hold bobby pins.  Do whatever you have to do to stop using your teeth as tools.  The payoff is a beautiful smile that will last for a lifetime.

Do You Have Damage from Using Your Teeth as a Tool?

Call our office today to schedule a visit with Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren.  They will give you a plan to repair the existing problem and help you take steps to prevent any further damage.

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