If you’ve heard that candy rots your teeth, or that your habit of one (or two or three) seltzers a day will erode your tooth enamel, you might be wondering what other treats, drinks, meals, and snacks could damage your teeth. While it’s technically true that all foods and beverages can cause tooth decay – or damage to the surface or enamel of your teeth – not all foods or beverages cause the same damage, and some people are more susceptible to tooth decay. dental caries than others.
Here’s what to keep in mind when taking care of your oral health.
Why are some foods worse than others?
When evaluating how bad a meal, snack, dessert or drink is for your dental health, there are two main things to consider, says Dr. Apoena de Aguiar Ribeiro, pediatric dentist and microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies the oral microbiome and its impact on dental caries: its composition and quality.
In our mouths live more than 700 species of bacteria, some useful, some harmful. Harmful bacteria break down sugars from food and drink and turn them into acids which, over time, can strip essential minerals from your teeth and lead to cavities.
If you’re not careful with cleaning, bacteria can also form a soft film, or plaque, on the surface of your teeth, which can exacerbate that acidity and create an ideal environment for more bacteria to grow. If your plaque grows and hardens enough, it can turn into tartar, which can also irritate your gums and cause gingivitis.
What kinds of foods are bad?
Sugary foods — and especially those made with sucrose or table sugar — are especially bad for your teeth because harmful bacteria thrive on them, Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro said. You can often find sucrose in many processed foods and sugary drinks like candies, pastries, fruit juice concentrates and sodas.
Plus, any sticky, gooey, or rubbery foods — like gummies, dried fruits, syrups, and candies — get stuck in the nooks and crannies of your teeth and the spaces between them. When excess sugar lingers on your teeth, harmful bacteria can store it in their cells, “like a pantry inside them,” Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro said, and continue to produce sugar. acid for hours after eating.
Certain drinks — like sugary sodas, juices, energy drinks, and milkshakes — are also big offenders. They wash your teeth in sticky, sugary solutions, and they’re acidic on top of that. “Our teeth start to decay when the acid level in the mouth drops below a pH of 5.5,” said Dr. Rocio Quinonez, professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel. Hill, and “sodas tend to have a pH around 3 to 4.
Other carbonated drinks like seltzer are also acidic. The same goes for coffees and alcoholic beverages which are often consumed with sweet syrups and mixers.
Certain fresh fruits, vegetables or starches – such as citrus fruits, potatoes, rice or even bananas – are often criticized as bad for your teeth because they can contain sugars or acids which can wear down your teeth. But they also contain nutrients that will improve your overall health, which can benefit your teeth, said Dr. Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski, a dentist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a cariology researcher, or the study of cavities and teeth. rot. Even if it’s foods that are sugary or tend to get stuck in your teeth, that trade-off can be worth it, she said.
If you have particularly deep grooves in your teeth or teeth that closely contact each other, sticky, sticky foods may be of more concern to you than others, Dr. Quinonez added. In this case, you should be more attentive not only to your diet, but also to your cleaning habits.
As long as you brush your teeth twice a day — once in the morning and once before bedtime — and floss daily, the nutritional benefits of these foods will outweigh the risk of dental damage. However, when it comes to fruit, Dr. Kopycka-Kedzierawski says that “eating fruit is better than drinking it” because many store-bought or even homemade fruit smoothies contain sugars from sucrose added.
What can I do to thwart tooth decay?
The good news is that in addition to brushing and flossing regularly, there are a few other science-based strategies you can use to keep your dental health in check.
Avoid snacking and sipping. Saliva, which helps remove stubborn food particles, is one of the most protective forces for your teeth. It remineralizes and strengthens tooth enamel, and contains bicarbonate, which helps neutralize acidity in your mouth.
But each time you eat or drink, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for saliva to reach protective levels, so snacking or drinking frequently can cause an imbalance, Dr. Quinonez said.
If you absolutely must have this sweet drink, try consuming it with a meal, or all at once rather than snuggling it all day, Dr. Quinonez said, “I’d rather you were a swallower than a sipper. . Drinking water after you finish eating or drinking can also help flush out sugars, she added.
Limit your alcohol intake. Heavy drinkers should also be careful, as alcohol can inhibit regular salivation, making it harder for your body to clean off residue clinging to your teeth.
Be aware of certain conditions or medication side effects. Various medical conditions, treatments, and medications — such as tuberculosis, chemotherapy, dialysis, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications — can inhibit saliva production or change the quality of your saliva. The people concerned must therefore be vigilant about practicing good dental hygiene.
Swap out sugar alternatives. Replacing your sugary drinks and snacks with sugar-free alternatives is a great decision for your teeth, says Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro. Sugar substitutes like aspartame or sugar alcohols aren’t metabolized by bacteria like regular sugars, so they don’t contribute to tooth decay. But keep in mind that the acids in diet sodas will still cause some demineralization of your teeth.
Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol. Similarly, Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro added that “sugar alcohols like xylitol that have antimicrobial activity” can slow the acid production of oral bacteria. “Sugarless gum with xylitol, when chewed three times a day, has been shown to increase your saliva flow, and also has an antimicrobial effect,” she said. So if you crave something sweet between meals, a sugar-free xylitol gum is one of your best options.
Drink certain types of tea. There is also evidence that black and green teas can help prevent tooth decay, as they contain fluoride and have higher pH levels. “But please don’t add sugar,” Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro added.
Get regular checkups. Tooth decay is the most common non-communicable disease worldwide. For most people, Dr. Kopycka-Kedzierawski said, regular dental checkups every six months are enough to catch any cavities before they get too serious. It’s important to see a professional because once a cavity has formed enough for you to notice it, you’re well into tooth decay.
Habits that are good for dental health are generally practices that are good for your overall health, Dr. Quinonez said. Eating fewer processed and sugary foods, getting regular checkups every six months, and avoiding snacks between meals — especially if that snack is a sugary or sticky food or drink — can pay off. You don’t have to think about it too much, she added.