March 11, 2019
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.
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.
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 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.
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).