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March 11, 2019

Foods and drinks that wreak havoc on teeth

Adult Health Oral Hygiene

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Dentist overviewing oral health habits RyanKing999/

The essentials of oral care are pretty simple — brush twice a day, remember to floss, and see a dentist regularly. While these steps are fundamental, they’re not the only habits necessary for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Being proactive about quality oral health doesn’t end after that two-minute brush timer goes off.

Because teeth are the first point of contact for food and beverages, it’s important to consider how they may impact your overall oral wellness. Certain snacks and drinks directly influence the intensity and progression of tooth decay. So, even if a person maintains proper brushing and flossing, it’s not always enough.

Knowing what foods and drinks to avoid can minimize tooth and gum damage, keeping all thirty-two of those pearly whites dentist-approved. Here’s a breakdown of some common culprits behind dental issues like cavities, gum disease, bad breath, and degradation of enamel.

Chewy candy

Unsurprisingly, that infamous “sweet tooth” doesn’t always lead to healthy decisions. Sugar, in any form, provides a feast for the mouth’s harmful bacteria. When these bacteria thrive, they create acids that eventually erode the tooth’s protective enamel. If the vehicle for that sugar is sticky, chewy, or thick (think gummy bears or Skittles,) it can stick between teeth and form an acidic hotspot. Sticky candies like this are difficult for saliva to wash away, leaving plenty of time for those acids to do damage to teeth and gums.

Acidic foods

Just like the acid produced by sugar-eating bacteria, naturally occurring acids also strip teeth of their enamel. Foods with a low pH (or high acid content), like lemons, limes, and tomatoes, wear away at the tooth’s protective surface. This leaves the sensitive underlying layer of the tooth, called dentin, totally exposed. Once the dentin is uncovered, a person can experience tooth sensitivity, discoloration, and transparency around a tooth’s edges.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates already have a bad reputation for their lack of nutritional value, but they can actually cause harm before they’re even digested. Amylase, a component found in saliva, breaks the starches down into sugar as they’re chewed, which turn to acid and increase the risk of tooth decay and cavities. Further research has shown that replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains can protect against this damage, and carry a lower risk for contributing to oral cancer.

Sports drinks

By this point, it’s clear that sugar is a leading contributor to dental damage. While some sources of sugar are easy to identify and avoid, like gummy candies, sugar is often hiding more subtly in common beverages. Although frequently advertised as being a health-conscious option, sports drinks are often packed with sugar and acids. Shockingly, sports drinks were almost as erosive to the teeth as sodas and energy drinks (which should also be avoided).

Damage control

  1. Despite best efforts, it’s simply impossible to completely avoid every snack or drink that could cause oral damage. Luckily, dentists offer some tips to reduce permanent harm:
  2. Leave time in between meals and snacks. This allows saliva to replenish the minerals teeth need to protect themselves.
  3. Brush your teeth after meals. This prevents food particles from lingering and causing decay. Dentists suggest waiting twenty minutes to brush after eating foods that weaken enamel to avoid excess abrasion when teeth are more sensitive.
  4. Consume higher-risk foods during meal time, rather than on their own. Because there’s more saliva present when eating a full meal, the mouth is more protected from acids and sugars.
  5. Drink through a straw when enjoying sugary or acidic beverages. This minimizes contact with teeth.

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