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9 Surprising Ways You're Ruining Your Teeth

Who knew the very things you do to protect your teeth could actually damage them?
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You might say a smile is a person's best asset. It conveys happiness, confidence and warmth, and, studies show, it makes us more attractive. The key to a pretty smile, of course, is a gorgeous set of pearly whites.

But all too often, the very things we do to take care of our smile -- brushing, flossing and even rinsing with mouthwash -- can hurt rather than help our teeth. We chatted with New York-based cosmetic dentist Gregg Lituchy, DDS, of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor (who's worked on the megawatt smiles of Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum) to find out common mistakes even those with oh-so-thorough oral hygiene routines commonly commit.

While we can't promise you a supermodel smile, we can share nine ways you're unwittingly causing everything from tooth enamel erosion to plaque build-up and more.

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You take pride in the fact that your teeth are razor-sharp enough to tear through the most stubborn package (aka, that bag of chips that you're dying to eat). But they may not stay that way if you continue to use them as an all-purpose opener.

The tip of a tooth, explains Lituchy, is the thinnest -- and the quickest to wear. "The packaging on something like a bag of crackers can be hard to open. Pulling hard against it with the tips of teeth can cause them to chip," says Lituchy, who also advises against chewing on nails, pens or pencils for the same reason.

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 You're Brushing Too Hard
You can take comfort in the fact that you brush your teeth twice a day, right? Well, maybe not. It turns out that many of us commit tooth-brushing blunders that can compromise the quality of our chompers.

The most egregious mistake? "Brushing too hard in a back-and-forth horizontal motion," says Lituchy. "People think that if they're using hard bristles, they'll wipe away more plaque, but you can actually brush away your enamel and wear down the area where the gums meet the tooth structure, causing gum recession." So not a pretty look.

For those who scrub with gusto, that's hard news to swallow. In addition to easing up on the elbow grease, Lituchy suggests switching to a soft bristle brush. And instead of a using a harsh, side-to-side motion, he recommends brushing at a 45-degree angle away from the gum tissue, positioning the bristles under the gums and brushing bristles toward the biting surface of the tooth.

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You're Not Defending Against Stains
You're a popular gal, so you often find yourself socializing over a glass of wine or coffee. And while your catch-up sessions are a boost to your confidence, they're a bane to your teeth, which can pick up gnarly surface stains from all those richly colored drinks. "Wine is a very heavy stainer of tooth structure," says Lituchy. "If you're going out to dinner and having wine and maybe an espresso afterward, it's not a bad idea to put a coating of Vaseline on your teeth." Vaseline, according to Lituchy, will create a protective barrier, allowing you to drink to your heart's desire. So, go ahead, keep filling up your social calendar -- and your glass.

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Your Flossing Technique Is Flawed
Bad news for those of us who feel smug about taking the time to floss every single day: We might be destroying our gums in the process. If you snap or pop the string in between your teeth, you're liable to damage the "triangle of gum" that comes to a point in between teeth, explains Lituchy. And once our gums begin to recede, they expose the oh-so-sensitive root of the tooth.

Instead, gently ease dental floss between teeth and make sure you curve the floss around the tooth in a C-shaped arc. And don't let the thought of possibly harming your gums deter you from flossing, either. You'll cause way more damage to your gums letting the bacteria that lives between teeth and under gums thrive unchecked.

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