Some fresh fruits, vegetables, or starchy foods, such as citrus fruits, potatoes, rice, or even bananas, are often considered bad for your teeth because they may contain sugars or acids that wear them down. If you have heard that candy damages teeth or that a bottle (or 2 or 3) of mineral water a day habit will erode tooth enamel, you may be wondering what other drinks and foods may be damaging your teeth.
It is technically true that all foods and drinks can cause cavities, damaging the surface or enamel of your teeth. But not all foods or drinks cause the same tooth problem, and some people are more susceptible to tooth decay than others.
But do not be altogether alarmed; this is what you have to take into account to take care of the teeth of certain foods and drinks and thus take care of oral health:
Why are some foods worse than others?
“When evaluating how bad a food, drink, or dessert is for your dental health, there are two main things to consider,” said Dr. Apoena de Aguiar Ribeiro, a pediatric dentist and microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that studies the oral microbiome and how it affects dental caries: its composition and its quality.
Inside the mouth live more than 700 species of bacteria; some of them are useful, but others are harmful. Harmful bacteria break down sugars in foods and beverages into acids, which over time can pull essential minerals from your teeth and cause cavities.
If you’re not vigilant about 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 even more bacteria to grow. If dental plaque grows and hardens enough, it can turn into tartar, which can also irritate the gums and cause gingivitis.
What types of foods are bad for teeth?
“Sugary foods, and in particular sucrose or table sugar compounds, are especially bad for teeth because harmful bacteria thrive on them”, said Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro. Sucrose can often be found in many processed foods and sugary drinks such as candy, cakes, fruit juice concentrates, and soft drinks; “also, any food that is sticky or chewy, like gummies, nuts, syrups and candy, gets stuck in the nooks and crannies of your teeth and the spaces between them. When excess sugar remains on the teeth, harmful bacteria can store it in their cells, “like a pantry inside them”, said Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro, and continue to produce acid for hours after eating.
Certain beverages, such as sugary sodas, juices, energy drinks, and smoothies, are also big “offenders”. These bathe the teeth in sticky and sugary solutions, and they are also acidic. “Our teeth begin to break down when the acid level in the mouth drops below a pH of 5.5”, said Dr. RosioQuiñónez, a professor of pediatric dentistry at the University of Carolina at 4”.
Other carbonated beverages such as sodas are also acidic, as are coffees and alcoholic beverages, which are usually consumed with sugary syrups and shakes. Some fresh fruits, vegetables, or starchy foods, such as citrus fruits, potatoes, rice, or even bananas, are often considered bad for your teeth because they may contain sugars or acids that wear them down.
“But they also contain nutrients that will improve your overall health, which in turn can benefit your teeth”, said Dr. DorotaKopycka-Kedzierawski, a dentist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a researcher in cariology, or the study of the cavities and teeth. “Even if they are sugary foods or foods that tend to get stuck. If you have particularly deep gaps in your teeth, or teeth that are in close contact with each other, chewy and sticky foods may be more of a concern for you than for others”, added Dr. Quiñónez. In which case, more consideration should be given to not only diet but also cleaning habits.
As long as you brush your teeth 2 times a day, once in the morning and once before bed and floss every day, the nutritional benefits of these foods will outweigh the risks of dental damage. When it comes to fruit, though, said Dr. Kopycka-Kedzierawski, “it is better to eat the fruit than drink it”, since many store-bought or even homemade fruit juices have added sucrose sugars.
What can I do to prevent cavities?
The good news is that in addition to regular brushing and flossing, there are a few other science-backed strategies you can use to keep your dental health in check.
1) Avoid snacking and sipping
Saliva, which helps remove stubborn food particles, is one of the most protective forces on teeth. It remineralizes and strengthens tooth enamel, and contains bicarbonate, which helps neutralize the acidity of the mouth. “But every time you eat or drink, it takes 20 to 30 minutes for saliva to build up to protective levels, so frequent snacking or drinking can cause an imbalance”, Quiñónez said.
If you absolutely must have that sugary drink, try consuming it with a meal or in one sitting instead of snuggling up all day, Dr. Quiñonez said: “I would rather it was a gulper and not a sip. Drinking water after you are done with whatever food or drink you have consumed can also help flush out sugars”, she added.
2) Limit alcohol consumption
Heavy drinkers should also be careful. Alcohol can inhibit regular salivation, making it difficult for your body to clean debris from your teeth.
3) 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 it. So those affected should be vigilant to practice good dental hygiene.
4) Switch to sugar alternatives
“Switching sugary drinks and snacks for sugar-free substitutes is a great move for your teeth”, said Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro. Sugar substitutes like aspartame or sugar alcohols are not metabolized by bacteria like normal sugars, so they do not contribute to tooth decay. But keep in mind that the acids in diet drinks will still cause some demineralization of your teeth.
5) Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol
Similarly, added Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro, “sugar alcohols such as xylitol, which have antimicrobial activity” can slow down the production of bacteria. “Sugar-free gum with xylitol, when chewed 3 times a day, has been shown to increase salivary flow and also have an antimicrobial effect”, she said. So if she craves something sweet between meals, sugar-free xylitol gum is one of her best options.
6) 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 don’t add sugar, please”, added Dr. Aguiar Ribeiro.
7) Do regular checkups
Dental caries is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide. For most people, said Dr. Kopycka-Kedzierawski, getting regular dental checkups every 6 months is enough. This way any cavities can be detected before they become too serious. Seeing a professional is important, because once a cavity has formed enough for you to notice, you’re well into tooth decay.
“Habits that are good for dental health are generally practices that are good for overall health”, said Dr. Quiñónez. Eating fewer processed and sugary foods, getting regular checkups every 6 months, and avoiding snacking between meals, especially if that snack is a sugary or sticky food or drink, can pay dividends. “You do not have to think too much”, she concluded.