Now that the festive season is well underway, we want to share an important reminder about tooth health. No, it’s not about limiting your intake of sugary food and drinks (although you should consider the effect overindulgence can have on your teeth). This message is about using your teeth as tools.
Teeth as Tools
“Teeth as tools” refers to using your teeth to twist off bottle caps, open chip packets, cut plastic ties, and other everyday tasks. For many people, opening things with their teeth is second nature but it can lead to serious dental complications.
Dr. Navdeep Singh (owner of My Family Dental) weighs in on the dangers of using your teeth as tools and answers some of your frequently asked questions to ensure your new year doesn’t begin with a painful dental emergency.
“Even though teeth can seem like a handy tool, you’re risking serious damage to your teeth,” says Dr. Singh. “It’s a bad habit many of us pick up as a child but we risk fracturing or cracking teeth. Teeth are meant to withstand vertical forces, not lateral forces, so that cool party trick of popping a beer bottle cap with your teeth…definitely a no-no!”
“And even if it doesn’t result in fractures, using your teeth as tools can also cause teeth to develop grooves or wear down the enamel, such as when the teeth are used to cut threads or plastic tags on clothing. This can result in malocclusion (poor jaw alignment) by wearing down your teeth unevenly. Malocclusion can eventually lead to a type of jaw pain called temporomandibular disorder (TMD)”.
Can I cut thread with my teeth?
No. It may seem like a harmless shortcut but cutting things with your teeth can eventually lead to the development of grooves, which can easily change the overall appearance of your mouth by wearing down your teeth unevenly.
Is it ok to use my teeth to hold things in my mouth?
No. Many people like to use their teeth as a “third hand” to hold things like nails, pens, sewing pins, and clothes pegs. But using your teeth to hold things can cause long term damage. My grandmother used her front teeth to hold pins while she was quilting and sewing. Over time, she had worn small grooves in her teeth where the pins were placed. These grooves were visible on the bottom of her upper teeth every time she smiled. We see similar damage with builders and cabinet makers who regularly hold nails in their teeth.
Holding objects in your teeth can also be a choking hazard if you hiccup or sneeze and can even result in serious oral injuries if you trip and fall.
Can I use my teeth as scissors or wire cutters?
NO! Even though I know better, sometimes even I am tempted to use my teeth as scissors when I’m feeling too lazy to just go and find a pair. Especially, to cut plastic ties on clothing or to cut sticky tape when it doesn’t come with a built-in cutter.
But our teeth are poorly suited for this task whereas scissors are the perfect tool. So, it’s much better for your oral health to make the effort to find and use a pair of scissors.
And teeth as wire cutters?! I know people do this, but it still blows my mind. I’ve been told the easiest way to remove the insulation from the copper wiring is to bite on it with your front teeth. Please don’t do this.
Is it ok to chew on a pencil? It’s soft.
No. Yes, teeth are designed for chewing, but chewing on foreign objects such as pencils, fingernails, straws, and really anything other than foodstuffs, is just not okay. Although some people use this as a way of relieving stress, biting on foreign objects can weaken, crack, or chip your teeth, causing permanent damage to your tooth structure. And doesn’t this ultimately cause more stress for you in the long run?
Can I use my teeth to crack open nuts or seafood?
Oh, my goodness, no! Nutcrackers are designed to crack open nuts, your teeth aren’t. Over time, the shell acts like sandpaper on your teeth, sanding away bits of enamel each time you open a nut. If you do this regularly you will eventually be able to visibly see where you’ve worn away your teeth.
The most common example I hear of is using teeth to crack open the North Queensland Christmas favourite, pistachios. But I’ve also heard of people attempting this with walnuts! I can almost guarantee your tooth will crack long before the walnut shell!
The same applies to using your teeth to eat seafood served in the shell. Although it may seem natural to use your teeth to remove the shell, after all this is what our ancestors did. True, but they also developed tools to avoid this method and the likely cracked teeth that came with it. Seafood shells are often quite hard and can easily damage your teeth.
So, what can I use my teeth for other than chewing?
Not much. You should really avoid using your teeth for anything other than chewing food!
What should I do if I crack a tooth?
First, don’t panic. Rinse your mouth with warm water and apply an ice pack in 20-minute intervals to reduce the swelling. Then, call your dentist for the soonest available time for an appointment.
Our teeth are designed to chew our food, structurally support our lips and cheeks, and help us speak properly. In order to keep our teeth working well for a long time, it’s important that we take care of them. This starts with using them only for their intended purpose. Please, DO NOT use your teeth as tools!