headed to the dentist
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Winter is coming, my friends, and so are the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Festivus - whatever your religious or familial customs it's a safe bet that you will witness, or perhaps even partake in, a time honored tradition which I have come to dread as a dentist . . . OPENING STUFF WITH YOUR TEETH!

Why do we care?

home alone kid Opening stuff with your teeth is never a good idea. While tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body, you are not Wolverine. Indeed, as many of you sadly know, teeth can and do break, for a variety of reasons. Enamel can be weakened when sugars and complex carbohydrates feed the bacteria living on your teeth to form acid, it can "wear out" as a result of years of clenching and grinding, or you can simply BREAK it from putting too much force on it at any given time.

And, for some reason, people are quite prone to using their teeth in improper ways, which can result in premature breakage.

Who does that?!?
Well, all of us, at some point, I would imagine.

In the spirit of the upcoming season, Dr. Drews and I would like to recommend and remind you that there are certain things you should simply avoid using your teeth for. Here are some common (and not so common) sources of torture for your teeth which we have seen in the past and would recommend you avoid at all costs:

Don't Use Your Teeth For . . .

Caps & Corks

woman opening a wine bottle with her teeth Ever since I became a dentist I have had family and friends at parties come up to me and open a beer bottle with their teeth just to get my reaction.

While I cringe because it's instinct, I usually try to point out that 1) they most certainly will not find it entertaining when they break their tooth and have to pay me to fix it and 2) it wasn't the best thought out plan in the world since their dentist is also drinking at the moment and therefore won't be able to fix it that evening. 🙂

But in all seriousness, there are much better (and less expensive) options for opening beer bottles. There are twist off tops and there are other secret ninja ways of opening a beer bottle that will impress your friends without running the risk of looking like Jim Carey in 'Dumb and Dumber.' (trivia time: Jim Carey chipped his tooth years earlier, but had the cap removed for the film to make his character look more deranged.)

Some of the coolest ways to open a beer bottle include using another bottle, using a dollar bill, using a coin - all of which are impressive at parties and aren't likely to result in a trip to the dentist office. And, if all else fails, they make these innovative things called "bottle openers!"

How do your dentists open their adult beverages?

epic nerdy batman keychain
I ♥ my awesome Batman key chain.

I subscribe to a service called Loot Crate where I receive a box of nerdy goods each month. It's fun. They send me the "best in geek + gaming gear" and it really is a bit like Comic-Con in a box.

One month I received this epic key chain which is a bottle opener that doubles as a screwdriver set. Sure, I get stopped at the airport with this all the time, but as soon as I assure them I'm not really Batman, they let me go.

sandals that have bottle openers on the bottom.
Dr. Drews ♥ his go-go gadget sandals.

Dr. Drews is a little more sophisticated - and covert - with his bottle opening tool.

He wears it on his feet.

Yes, his Reef leather fanning sandals feature a church key built right into the footbed to open his "soda" after whatever he's been up to in his flip flops.

No matter what the bottle, for Pete's sake (and for mine), use a bottle opener or a cork screw or whatever other nerdy, geeky, cool, impressive trick you can find on the Internet to get your quench on.

Plastic Bags

bag of birds eye frozen corn While many companies have started making perforated opening lines or tiny little slits on the side to get the bag opening process going, we've all encountered that stubborn bag that breaks when it's not supposed to, or simply won't open.

Even though we're usually standing two feet (or less) away from the drawer with the scissors while opening that bag of frozen vegetables in preparation for Thanksgiving, our instinct is to just put it up to our mouths to tear into it with our teeth. I'm not sure if we just think it's quicker or if it's just a matter of habit, but I'm guilty of it myself.

Odds are good that simply placing a thin piece of plastic between your teeth for a second or two and applying slight pressure won't have a devastating effect on your enamel, but many years of small insults to your teeth, coupled with the normal wear and tear of everyday use, this could actually be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

The art of ripping open that bag or that candy bar wrapper is particularly harmful if you already have a restoration in your tooth, since nothing that we as dental professionals can place on your tooth to restore it can come even close to being as strong as your natural tooth structure. So while this may seem like the most innocent of acts in comparison with some of the other faux pas on this page, never underestimate the danger of a plastic bag (or an envelope, or a candy wrapper, or even that stubborn sales tag).

Fingernails

woman biting her nails The holidays are a time of family, friends, and often great stress. While psychologists have noted all kinds of causes of nail biting behavior (doctors refer to that as onychophagia), one thing is certain - stress and anxiety are common causes of fingernail biting. Having been through dental school, I can personally attest to that.

This is an extremely common bad habit, and sometimes can be indicative of a more serious psychological condition. Chronic nail biters can experience not only chipping or breaking of their teeth, but in severe cases can suffer from malocclusion, meaning their teeth may change position and not line up properly. There's evidence to suggest that incisors can rotate or you can develop an open bite with prolonged periods of time having your fingers in your mouth.

It's advisable to stop biting your nails for your general health as well. One of the major motivating factors that helped me stop biting my nails was thinking of all the bacteria that can accumulate on your fingertips and under your fingernails and not wanting that to be transferred into my mouth (ironically it wasn't because I wanted to be sure my teeth wouldn't fracture!) Other strategies for decreasing nail biting include those for reducing stress, keeping your nails trimmed and even (you're more likely to want to bite them to try to even them out if they're jagged), and chewing sugar free gum to keep your mouth distracted. It's a hard habit to break!

Legos

I have what some might call an unhealthy obsession with Legos. It didn't start as a little kid; it actually started when I got married. Sure, I liked Legos growing up, but I didn't have any of the fancy sets or an extensive collection.

ring bearer with a giant lego brick
Love this kid! Evan did such a GREAT job as the ring bearer.

When my husband and I got married in 2012 we decided to go all out and have a crazy theme - Legos and video games. Our center pieces were made out of Legos and portrayed various video game themes: from Mario (which were actually K'nex, not Legos), to Lego Harry Potter. We had a Lego themed cake and our ring bearer brought our rings down the aisle in an over-sized plastic Lego brick.

As I started getting more intrigued with everything Lego, I began noticing that the bigger sets included an oddly shaped orange piece called a brick separator meant for disassembling the hard to detach Lego pieces.

I never had this piece growing up, and I certainly could have used it, given that I had a bad habit of chewing my fingernails so I couldn't use them to get those pesky Legos that were sometimes hard to separate, well, separated.

Lego brick separator

I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank Lego for this awesome invention, and to offer up my extra brick separators to any of our patients who know that the struggle is real and would like to save their teeth!

I actually did have a patient a few years back who broke his permanent front tooth while taking apart some Legos. That was probably the priciest Lego set his parents ever bought him.

Many of your young kids (and 34 year old dentists) will be receiving Legos for Christmas this year. Save your teeth, friends. Use the tool!

You Guys Can Just Fix Me if I Break Myself!

Visualize yourself not falling off the wall While Dr. Drews and I are, in fact, superheroes, and dentists are, in fact, the McGyvers of medicine, there is no dental restoration or device that we can provide to you that would be nearly as strong or as good as what you were made with.

Don't get me wrong, we have a vast arsenal of options at our disposal for trying to put Humpty back together again, and those tools will get you the best form and function we can provide, but you'd be infinitely better off if you never hurt yourself in the first place!

What options are available?

The options available to fix your tooth will depend on the severity of the fracture.

chipped-tooth This type of fracture would only require a bonded restoration (composite filling) to repair the damage.

The margin between the filling and the tooth will always be weaker than the original tooth, however, and as such it may need to be replaced several times over the lifespan of the tooth. Also, the margins can develop staining and/or cavities can form at the interface.

The repaired tooth will also be more prone to fracturing again. You would definitely want to stop using your teeth as tools at this point.

child's broken front tooth A fracture of this severity, particularly in a young tooth, may require endodontic treatment (or root canal therapy) as there could be exposure of the nerve.

The tooth will require a crown to restore form and function as a tooth colored filling would not provide enough stability and the long term prognosis would be much poorer.

And, should the tooth be fractured to the point where it is non restorable, we are equipped to provide you with a dental implant to replace the tooth (in which case, you would be part Wolverine).

dental implant illustration
Dental implants look, feel and act like a natural tooth.

So while all these fine options do exist - and are readily available at your friendly neighborhood dental office - we won't take offense if you'd rather save the inconvenience, time, and expense of these procedures by not breaking your teeth in the first place.

After all, who wants to spend the holidays with their dentist, anyway? Our poor families have no choice, but you certainly do! An ounce of prevention, and all that.

On a lighter note . . .

I'll leave you with this guy who teaches you to open Coronas with anything but your teeth:

AND this tremendously interesting concept (and non-recommended alternative) for opening beer bottles with your teeth:

If you find yourself in need of a dentist over the holidays, give us a call at (207) 782-5308. If you've chipped a tooth opening a beer bottle or ripping open that bag of vegetables, we can't promise that we won't say we told you so.

Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!
Kristie
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