The Worst Foods and Drinks for Your Teeth

If you’ve heard that candy rots your teeth; or that your one (or two or three) seltzer-a-day habit will erode your tooth enamel, you might be wondering what other treats, drinks, meals and snacks might be harming your teeth. While it’s technically true that all foods and drinks can cause tooth decay — or damage to the surface, or enamel, of your teeth — not every food or drink causes equal harm, and some people are more susceptible to dental decay than others.

Here’s what to keep in mind when taking care of your oral health.

Dr. Apoena, a pediatric dentist and microbiologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies the oral microbiome, and how it affects dental decay, said that there are two main considerations when assessing the health of a snack, meal, dessert, or beverage.

Inside our mouths live more than 700 species of bacteria — some that are helpful, some that are harmful. The harmful bacteria can break down sugars and turn them to acids. Over time, this can cause cavities and strip your teeth of essential minerals.

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 proliferate. If dental plaque becomes too hardened, it can become tartar. This can cause irritation to your gums and lead to gingivitis.

Sugary foods — and in particular, those composed of sucrose, or table sugar — are especially bad for your teeth because harmful bacteria thrive on them, Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro said. Sucralose can be found in many processed foods, sugary drinks, and pastries like candy, fruit juice concentrates, and sodas.

In addition, any foods that are sticky, gooey or chewy — 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 of them,” Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro said, and continue producing acid for hours after you’ve eaten.

Certain drinks — like sugary sodas, juices, energy drinks and milkshakes — are also heavy offenders. They wash your teeth in sticky and sugary solutions, and they’re acidic to boot. “Our teeth begin to break down when the acid level in the mouth dips below a pH of 5.5,” said Dr. Rocio Quinonez, a 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 beverages, such as seltzers, are also acidic. Acidic beverages include coffees, alcoholic drinks, and other drinks that are often flavored with sugary syrups or mixers.

Some fresh fruits, vegetables or starchy foods — like citrus, potatoes, rice or even bananas — are often maligned as bad for your teeth because they may contain sugars or acids that can wear away at your teeth. But they also contain nutrients that will boost your overall health, which in turn can benefit your teeth, said Dr. Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski, a dentist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a researcher in cariology, or the study of cavities and dental decay. Even if they are foods that are sugary or tend to get stuck in your teeth — that tradeoff may be worth it, she said.

Dr. Quinonez explained that sticky foods and chewy foods can be more dangerous for those with deep grooves or teeth that are close to each other. In these cases, you need to be more aware of not only your diet but also your cleaning habits.

So long as you are brushing your teeth twice a day — once in the morning and once before bedtime — and flossing every day, the nutritional boons of those foods will outweigh the risks of dental damage. Though when it comes to fruit, Dr. Kopycka-Kedzierawski said, “it’s better to eat the fruit than to drink it,” since many store-bought or even homemade fruit smoothies have added sucrose sugars.

The good news is that there are other science-backed strategies to keep your teeth healthy.

Avoid snacking or sipping.Saliva is one of the best protections for your teeth. It helps to flush out lingering food particles. It re-mineralizes, strengthens, and contains bicarbonate. This helps to neutralize acidity in your mouth.

Dr. Quinonez explained that saliva builds up over time and takes between 20-30 minutes for any food or drink to reach protective levels. Therefore, frequent snacking or drinking can lead to an imbalance.

If you absolutely must have that sugary drink, try to consume it with a meal, or in one sitting rather than nestling it all day, Dr. Quinonez said: “I would rather you’re a gulper not a sipper.” Drinking water after you’ve finished with whatever food or drink you’ve consumed can also help swish out any sugars, she added.

Limit your alcohol intake.Heavy drinkers need to be cautious, as alcohol can reduce salivation, making it more difficult for your body to remove any residues that may remain on your teeth.

Pay attention to side effects of medication or conditions. Various medical conditions, treatments and medications — like tuberculosis, chemotherapy, dialysis, antihistamines and blood pressure medications — can inhibit saliva production, or change the quality of your saliva. Good dental hygiene is important for those who are affected.

Switch to sugar alternativesDr. de Aguiar Ribeiro says that switching from sugary drinks to sugar-free alternatives is a great thing for your teeth. Sugar substitutes like aspartame or sugar alcohols are not metabolized by bacteria like regular sugars, so they don’t contribute to dental decay. However, diet sodas can still cause some demineralization.

Use xylitol to make sugar-free gum. Similarly, Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro added, “sugar alcohols like xylitol that have antimicrobial activity” can slow down the acid production of mouth bacteria. “Sugar-free gum with xylitol, when chewed three times a day, has been shown to increase your salivary flow, and also has an antimicrobial effect,” she said. So if you’re craving something sweet between meals, a sugar-free xylitol gum is one of your best options.

Certain types of tea are best. There is also evidence to support the idea. black and green teas can help prevent dental decayThey are more acidic and contain fluoride. “But don’t add sugar please,” Dr. de Aguiar Ribeiro added.

Get regular checkups.Tooth decay is a common condition. most common noncommunicable disease worldwide. Dr. Kopycka–Kedzierawski believes that regular dental checks every six months are enough to detect decay before it becomes too serious. It is important to see a professional because once you notice a cavity, it is already too late.

Dr. Quinonez stated that the best habits for your dental health are also good for your overall health. Eating fewer processed and sugary foods, having regular checkups every six months, and avoiding snacks between meals — especially if that snack is a sugary or sticky food or drink — can pay dividends. You don’t have to overthink it, she added.

Source: NY Times

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