Your smile conveys so much information. It expresses happiness, can mask sadness, will indicate sarcasm, and often conveys warmth. Your smile is the feature that can light up your entire face and is often returned by whomever you may flash a grin at. But there are daily things you are doing that will ruin your smile, the majority of which involve some sort of damage to the teeth. Chances are, you are guilty of one, two, or six of these behaviors, and you are slowly and steadily lessening the general awesomeness of your smile.
From stains caused by the food and drink we put in our mouths to the chips that come from what we may chew on — including food, pen caps, and unpopped popcorn kernels — there are lots of little actions that can cause big problems.
But we aren’t ruining our smiles simply by the things that we consume. You can kill your smile through several bad habits and by not practicing proper oral hygiene, or by practicing mouth hygiene in the improper ways.
Los Angeles-based dentist Dr. Sargon Lazarof tells us, “Having a beautiful smile depends on whether you have a nice smile to begin with or you have problems with your teeth that prevent you from smiling. If you already have a beautiful smile, my number one suggestion is to first use it and second, do not smoke if you do.” Dr. Emily Letran concurs, firing off the key negative effects of smoking, saying, “Long-term smoking can cause oral cancer, bad breath, and deposit heavy stains in the teeth.”
Vaping and using e-cigs
E-cigs and vapes are increasingly popular among teens and young adults. Virginia-based orthodontist Dr. Crutchfield warns his patients against using them, due to the gum tissue damage they cause. He tells us, “Though research is very limited on this new technology, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and many other institutions are studying the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on health.” He points to a University of Rochester e-cig study from November 2016, which reveals that the some of the flavorings damage mouth cells. “My advice is to never pick up the habit of any nicotine-laced delivery system, be it traditional products like cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, gum, or e-cigarettes,” he says.
Dr. Katie Bales of Bales Orthodontics reminds us that smiles can fade from stains caused by a variety of sources, like beverages. When teeth are stained, enamel has thinned, causing the next layer of tooth, called “dentin,” to become more visible. Dentin is darker and can make teeth look more yellow. Dr. Debra Gray King of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry reveals just how bad sipping a fizzy and refreshing soft drink is for your teeth (and therefore your smile). “When you drink soda throughout the day, you’re allowing sugar to sit on your teeth, causing decay and future cavities. Additionally, the acid in the soda lowers your PH, which weakens your enamel.” As previously mentioned, thinned enamel can lead to darker-looking teeth.
If you have a passion for wine, you might want to think twice about how often you consume it. Vino can have a cumulative negative effect on your smile over time, causing “significant staining on the surface of teeth,” Dr. King explains to us. But wine and sugar soft drinks aren’t the only beverages that will stain teeth.
Drinking coffee and tea
If you are a caffeine fiend, that extra burst of energy provided by coffee or tea may help you get through the day. But these bevvies are positively brutal on your teeth and smile. Beverly Hills dentists Drs. Dustin & Stacey Cohen tell us, “Both of these drinks will stain your teeth any chance they can get. In general, there are very small — and sometimes big– pits and cracks in the enamel of your teeth that allow the dark liquids to seep in and get stuck. If you have bonding or fillings on your teeth, they, too, will stain, causing a dark and dingy smile.” Anyone else rethinking that morning latte?
Darkly pigmented foods
Dr. Robert D’Alfonso of Lakeway Cosmetic Dentistry, a cosmetic and restorative practice in Austin, Texas, points to darkly-pigmented foods as stainers of teeth and ruiners of smiles. “Foods with darker pigmentation can also stain your teeth. Blueberries, blackberries, curry (turmeric has a very strong pigment to it), bright spices, pomegranates, and beets are all good examples of foods that will stain your smile,” he tells us. Yes, all of those natural foods may be delicious and mostly good for you, but they might mess with your smile.
Chewing ice is also a major no-no, especially for those of you with braces, which you have to fix a smile or mouth issue. According to the team at Advanced Orthodontics, chomping on ice can ruin your teeth, whether or not you have braces. It causes small, invisible fractures to form in teeth. Over time, the team tells us, “these tiny fractures could weaken your teeth, making the possibility of cracking or breaking a tooth that much more likely.” That means more corrective dental work, and if you already have braces, you could be undoing all the fixes that braces actually provide. What a vicious cycle. Cease chewing ice, stat.
Eating sticky foods
If you have the proverbial sweet tooth, you can further cause damage to your smile. The aforementioned team at Advanced Orthodontics discourages certain types of candy, taffy, and other sticky foods, which can become lodged on or in between the teeth. They say, “If you get in the habit of eating sticky candies, then the sugars will wear away at your enamel and cause cavities.” Ugh!
Snacking through the day
Dr. Melody Salehi of Austin City Dental warns that “snacking throughout the day lowers the pH in your mouth, making it a prime environment for bacteria to flourish and decay your teeth. If you are sipping soda [throughout the day], it also allows sugar-loving bacteria to break down enamel.” You aren’t able to witness all the problems that pesky bacteria causes with the naked eye. But rest assured that they’re happening.
It’s not just what you consume that causes your smile to be downgraded. Bad habits also create a whole mess of problems. Biting your fingernails is a somewhat unhygienic practice to begin with, especially when you consider how much germ-coated stuff you touch in a day. Nail biting also leaves you with ragged digits and a messy mani. But even worse, gnawing on your nails can result in chipped teeth, Dr. Idelle Brand tells us.
Opening bottles with your teeth
Dr, Kristie Lake of Drews Dental Services in Lewiston, Maine, also advises against using your teeth for things like opening a bottle or to carry a bag (!) when your hands are full because it could lead to tooth damage and a disproportionate or unattractive smile. “These can contribute to chipping or fracture. Teeth are for chewing and smiling,” she tells us.
Both involuntary and voluntary grinding and clenching of teeth also ruins your smile, resulting in “enamel erosion and pain in the jaw,” according to Dr. Lazarof. Also, Dr. King points out that clenching and grinding, over time, “results in teeth appearing shorter and uneven. It can even cause small fracture lines in your teeth. Clenching can also cause future jaw problems and tension headaches.” So do whatever you can to avoid gnashing your chompers when mad or frustrated!
There are several other things that can downgrade your smile game besides things you consume and bad habits. Tongue piercings had such a moment in the ’90s and ’00s. I had one for nearly a decade but removed it after my dentist said it was causing gum erosion. Dr. Lake cites further dangers of mouth piercings. “My experience has been that many patients later regret having altered their appearance at the expense of their smiles,” she tells us. “Tongue rings click and clack at your teeth while you chew, talk, or even while you’re sleeping. Pressure over time can lead to fracturing of teeth, and even resorption of bone.”
A lip piercing can look super cool, especially for rock ‘n’ rollers or people with an edgy, countercultural style. But Dr. Lake shares that “lip rings can cause similar trauma [as tongue rings], but more likely the inner portion of the ring, as it rubs against the gums and causes recession. These can cause some rather nasty cosmetic emergencies, let alone the propensity for pain.” The cons surely outweigh the pros in this case, don’t you think?
Not flossing properly
Good oral hygiene is essential for a beautiful and healthy smile, because duh! But if you are not using the proper techniques, you could be doing more harm than good. Dr. Lazarof weighs in, telling us, “Proper brushing and flossing will guarantee you your smile for a long time. But there is a right and a wrong way to brush and floss teeth. Make sure you are not doing it wrong, since you could be damaging your teeth in the long run by improper techniques.”
Not flossing is even worse, though. Lazarof puts it in perspective, saying, “Recent rumors about flossing are wrong; if you do not floss, it would be just like if you were washing the front and back of your car and ignoring the sides.” Indeed, your smile deserves a full-service cleaning process.
Brushing too hard
Dr. King warns against brushing too hard or you will make a bloody, red mess. “This may come as quite a surprise, but brushing your teeth too hard can actually cause your gums to recede,” she explains. Reddened gums are certainly reason enough to prevent you from flashing a toothy grin, right? But gum recession can also become painful and be expensive to rectify.
Using whitening toothpastes incorrectly
Dr. Peter Drews of Maine Dental Clinic notes that you may think you are doing the right thing to preserve, brighten, and improve your smile by pairing a whitening toothpaste and an electric toothbrush. But the combo can do more harm than good if you don’t use it carefully. “The issue I see causing patients to ruin their teeth is the combination of whitening toothpaste and improper use of [the] Phillip Sonicare toothbrush,” Dr. Drew explains to us. “I personally use a Sonicare toothbrush and I love it to get rid of staining on my teeth. The patients with severe toothbrush abrasion tend to apply heavy pressure versus light pressure to maximize Sonicare’s effectiveness and letting the toothbrush do the brushing. It is the equivalent of taking an electric sander and putting too much elbow grease into your work, defeats the purpose of the upgrade.” He also noted that some tooth-whitening pastes are super abrasive, so you should seek a dentist’s advice on which to use.
Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, reveals that Botox, which is meant to improve features of the face by smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, can do damage to the smile. She tells us, “When injecting the crow’s feet/smile lines around the eyes, it is possible to get some of the muscle fibers in the upper cheek; this can lead to a temporary inability to lift that cheek when smiling and your smile will not look symmetrical.”
Getting lip injections
Fillers, like hyaluronic acid, are frequently injected into the lips to create fullness, plumpness, and symmetry, and to accentuate the lip borders, according to Shainhouse. “When lips have too much product in them, it can alter the shape and extent of the smile,” she says. Things just don’t look natural, and nothing is more obvious than a fake smile.
Wearing the wrong color lipstick
There are some cosmetic and “surface” things that could be ruining your smile. The wrong color of lipstick can totally make your smile look bunk. Dr. Sarah Jebreil tells us that while red lipstick can make teeth appear brighter, if you have “dark corridors in your smile,” a dark shade of lipstick will only further spotlight the problem.
Applying foundation incorrectly near the mouth
Sandy Taylor, makeup artist and founder of Foundation Fairy, points out that a lot of her clients have “smile lines” that form at each side of the nose to the corners of the mouth. She explains to us, “Although this is a natural facial feature, it is a trouble area for those of us who love to wear foundation. This is because throughout the day, foundation tends to settle into the lines each time we smile, making them more visible and messy.”
Acid reflux can be quite a smile ruiner, through no fault of your own, unless you aren’t properly addressing the issue with medical professionals. Dr. Jonathan Levine, DMD tells us, “Unbeknownst to many is that your stomach acid (the culprit in GERD) may give you stinging heartburn and also reeks havoc on tooth enamel. As it splashes the teeth, it wears down the tooth surface like water on chalk. You never really get your enamel back and tarter fills in its place.”
Not using it
Most muscles will atrophy if you don’t use them. Many things in life lose their luster when they just sit on the shelf. The same concept applies to your smile. Danny Zoucha, the author of The Happy Rich Movement, notes that not using your smile ruins it. “What will ruin your smile is when you fail to use it often,” he tells us. “What happens if you don’t go to the gym after a year of squats? Flat ass, right? If you aren’t flashing your genuine smile at any and everyone you meet, you fall out of practice. Helloooooo, smile ruination.”
It’s not too late to save your smile
Many of the things that dental and cosmetics professionals have said about reversing mouth damage, or preventing it, are largely intuitive. It’s obvious that you can correct a deteriorating smile with good oral hygiene habits, by not using your teeth in ways in which they were not intended, and by consulting a dental or health professional.
Dr. King recommends that soda lovers drink soda, then a glass of water, and brush teeth 45 minutes later, since “if you brush right away after acidic drinks/foods, you actually can cause more damage to your teeth.” She also recommends “wine wipes, which are small, portable wipes specifically designed to clean the surface of your teeth of wine residue.”
Dr. Jarret L. Manning suggests flossing before you brush so you don’t forget to incorporate flossing into your dental routine, while Dr. Lazarof suggests a mouth guard for night grinders. Taylor recommends a foundation primer to prevent foundation from settling into fine lines.
But in general, be smart about your smile.