One of the often-overlooked strategies for protecting your teeth and gums is to chew your food well and slowly. Many people rush through meals, taking large bites and barely chewing them, or chewing them too quickly. If you chew slower, though, you protect your teeth and gums from some unsavory side effects of fast chewing. As you read through these, try to recall those times you've experienced something similar -- that may help you start to chew slower right away.

Hitting Something Hard

Everyone's had that experience where they bite into something that's supposed to be very chewable, and instead they hit something hard, like a piece of bone when chewing on chopped chicken. If you're chewing very quickly, you could bite down too hard on the item, causing damage on your teeth. If you chew slowly, though, you have a better chance of biting down gently instead, which is enough to tell you that you shouldn't bite down anymore, but not enough to hurt your teeth.

Caught Under the Gums

Another risk of chewing too quickly is that odd bits of food, like pin bones in salmon or bits of popcorn, can slip under your gum line. That can cause pain and infection, and you don't need that trauma. Chew slowly so that, if something starts to head into your gums, you have time to stop chewing and move the food around so it doesn't hurt your gums.

Reducing the Possibility of Decay

Holding food in your mouth for a longer time, as happens with chewing slowly, seems like it would not be good for preventing decay. You would think that the food resting against your teeth for a longer time would mean that there would be more chances for bacteria to feed off of the food residue. But if you chew more, your mouth also releases more saliva, which washes away plaque and bacteria. So by chewing more slowly, you actually decrease your chances of developing tooth decay.

It can take some time to break the habit of chewing quickly and biting down very hard. However, it is possible to retrain yourself. If you have bitten down on something hard or felt food attack your gum line, contact your dentist to have your teeth and gums checked out. Otherwise, get regular cleanings, and if you're still concerned about how your teeth look, you may want to discuss cosmetic dentistry methods.