When we consider the foods we eat and the reasons why we choose one food over another, it usually comes down to taste preference or health benefits. But the effect our food choices have on our teeth should also be made a priority. While foods like lollies and soft drink stick out to us all as being damaging to teeth, there are many ‘healthy’ foods that we need to be mindful of when consuming frequently. These foods can certainly still be enjoyed and by no means need to be cut out of anyone’s diet. The most important thing is to remember to floss or rinse your mouth after eating them.
Recognizing Foods that are Bad for Your Teeth
When it comes to the worst foods for your teeth, the list of items can vary from what would be considered obvious – such as candy – to more surprising examples that include fruits and vegetables. Although a variety of foods that you eat and drink could possibly damage your teeth over time, you can avoid this outcome with proper oral care.
It’s not surprising that candy is bad for your mouth. But sour candy contains more and different kinds of acids that are tougher on your teeth. Plus, because they’re chewy, they stick to your teeth for a longer time, so they’re more likely to cause decay. If you’re craving sweets, grab a square of chocolate instead, which you can chew quickly and wash away easily.
Think twice as you walk down the supermarket bread aisle. When you chew bread, your saliva breaks down the starches into sugar. Now transformed into a gummy paste-like substance, the bread sticks to the crevices between teeth. And that can cause cavities. When you’re craving some carbs, aim for less-refined varieties like whole wheat. These contain less added sugars and aren’t as easily broken down.
We all know that little, if any, good comes from soda or pop, even if it’s got the word “diet” on the can. A recent study even found that drinking large quantities of carbonated soda could be as damaging to your teeth as using methamphetamine and crack cocaine.
Carbonated sodas enable plaque to produce more acid to attack tooth enamel. So if you sip soda all day, you’re essentially coating your teeth in acid. Plus it dries out your mouth, meaning you have less saliva. And last but not least, dark-colored sodas can discolor or stain your teeth. A note: don’t brush your teeth immediately after drinking a soda; this could actually hasten decay.
All it contains is water, so it’s fine to chew ice, right? Not so, Chewing on a hard substance can damage enamel and make you susceptible to dental emergencies such as chipped, cracked, or broken teeth, or loosened crowns. You can use your ice to chill beverages, but don’t chew on it. To resist the urge, opt for chilled water or drinks without ice.
Oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are tasty as both fruits and juices, and are packed with vitamin C. But their acid content can erode enamel, making teeth more vulnerable to decay.
Even squeezing a lemon or lime into water adds acid to a drink. Plus, acid from citrus can be bothersome to mouth sores. If you want to get a dose of their antioxidants and vitamins, eat and drink them in moderation at mealtime and rinse with water afterward.
The crunch of a potato chip is eternally satisfying to many of us. Unfortunately, they’re loaded with starch, which becomes sugar that can get trapped in and between the teeth and feed the bacteria in the plaque. Since we rarely have just one, the acid production from the chips lingers and lasts awhile.
After you’ve gorged on a bag, floss to remove the trapped particles.
You likely assume that dried fruits are a healthy snack. That may be true, but many dried fruits — apricots, prunes, figs, and raisins, to name a few — are sticky.
They get stuck and cling to the teeth and their crevices, leaving behind lots of sugar. If you do like to eat dried fruits, make sure you rinse your mouth with water, and then brush and floss after. And because they’re less concentrated with sugar, it is a better choice to eat the fresh versions instead!
Soft drinks, whether sugar-free or not, contain acid. They can be damaging to teeth and can lead to increased cavities and dental erosion. Avoid soft drinks to help keep your teeth healthier. Drink unsweetened tea or water instead. If you must drink soft drinks, refrain from brushing your teeth immediately after since acid softens your teeth’s structure, making them more vulnerable to abrasion.
Vinegar has acid, which is important in the pickling process. This acid not only can cause staining but can wear away your teeth’s enamel. Most pickled foods also have sugar, which is another contributor to cavities.
Coffee and tea
Coffee and tea not only tint your smile a lovely shade of brown, but if they are sweetened they also make the teeth sticky, which means more food particles can hitch a ride. If you do partake, try to avoid the syrups and add-ons and drink plenty of good old-fashioned water.
Those buttered puffy bits get stuck between your teeth and promote bacteria growth. Beware of the crunchy kernels that can lead to cracked teeth and the sharp hulls that can lead to cut gums. Ouch!
Foods that require a bit of extra exertion to chew are also typically foods that can damage your teeth. Although it may be tempting to chew on the ice at the bottom of a glass or even un-popped kernels at the bottom of your popcorn bag, hard foods could actually break your teeth. This can also be the case for healthy foods such as fresh carrots or corn on the cob. Those with sensitive teeth can opt for diced carrots, or corn that is removed from the cob.
Crackers are refined carbohydrates, and numerous studies have founds links between high refined carbohydrate consumption to body inflammation. Inflammation is the main player in various chronic diseases such as periodontitis and gingivitis (inflammation around the tissues supporting your teeth).
Avoid sweet, viscous liquids like some high-carb sports drinks. These are not only acidic, but the thick liquid may stick on your teeth for a long time. Water is often the best go-to for refueling after a workout.
Regardless of whether it’s brown sugar, refined white sugar or honey, it’s still sugar. The amount you eat isn’t what typically matters but rather how often. Sugar turns your mouth into an acidic environment, which persists for a couple of hours after you consume it. If you drink or eat some sugar every couple of hours, you’ll be continuously bathing your teeth in the acid, which can dissolve your tooth enamel directly.
Processed foods like spaghetti sauce and ketchup contain high amounts of sugar too. Juices that are labeled “no added sugar” still have natural sugar in them.
If you’re consuming foods with a lot of sugar, you should consume them with your meals instead of as snacks since you produce more saliva in your mouth during meals, and this helps neutralize acid production. Wait about 20 minutes before brushing your teeth after a meal too. This will give your saliva a chance to remineralize your enamel that the acid dissolved.
While tomatoes are healthy to eat, they’re acidic. When you eat spaghetti with tomato sauce, it can do double damage to your enamel due to the acidic sauce breaking down your tooth’s enamel and the pasta’s carbs helping to feed bacteria that cause cavities. Instead, try eating some pasta with cheese.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is well-known for its detoxifying properties, but it is highly acidic and can erode your tooth enamel quickly. If you drink apple cider vinegar, add water to it and drink it all at once, instead of sipping on it. Then rinse your mouth and teeth well afterward.
The bottom line is that sugar and acid can be your teeth’s worst enemy. Your mouth will be happier if you consume food that provides vitamins and minerals, neutralizes acids, stimulates saliva and repairs tooth enamel. Good nutrition can help build strong gums and teeth. Avoid foods that cause plaque on teeth. Instead, munch on more mouth-friendly snacks like nuts, cheeses, non-acidic fruits and vegetables.
Some suggested foods:
- Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.Foods with fiber help keep your teeth and gums clean, says the American Dental Association (ADA). They also get saliva flowing. Next to good home dental care, this is your best natural defense against cavities and gum disease. About 20 minutes after you eat something that has sugars or starches, your saliva begins to reduce the effects of the acids and enzymes attacking your teeth. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate. So it also restores minerals to areas of teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids.
- Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products.Cheese is another saliva maker. The calcium and phosphates in milk, cheese, and other dairy products, help put back minerals your teeth might have lost due to other foods. They also help rebuild tooth enamel.
- Green and black teas.These teas both contain polyphenols that interact with plaque bacteria. These substances either kill or hold back bacteria. This prevents bacteria from growing or making acid that attacks teeth. Depending on the type of water you use to brew your tea, a cup of tea can also be a source of fluoride.
- Sugarless chewing gum.This is another great saliva maker that removes food particles from your mouth.
- Foods with fluoride.Fluoridated drinking water, or any product you make with fluoridated water, helps your teeth. This includes powdered juices (as long as they don’t contain a lot of sugar) and dehydrated soups. Commercially prepared foods, such as poultry products, seafood, and powdered cereals, also can give fluoride.
Caring for Your Teeth
One of the most effective ways that you can avoid the damage that some of the worst foods for teeth can cause is to brush your teeth after eating. Because acidic foods weaken your teeth, do not brush immediately after eating foods containing acids; instead, wait about an hour before cleaning your teeth. In addition to at-home care, you should be sure to schedule an appointment with your dentist at least twice a year.