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.”

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

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?

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.

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!

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.

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?

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.
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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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

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.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.