What we eat and drink has a big effect on our dental health — particularly if we’re snacking throughout the day or consuming drinks high in sugar or acid. These five foods have the worst effects on our teeth and gums — some of which might be quite surprising — and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
1. Hard Foods
Chewing on hard substances, which includes ice cubes and even corn kernels from unpopped popcorn can damage the enamel on our teeth. Many of these foods are also responsible for trips to the dentist for emergency dental care. Too much crunch can chip, crack, and break teeth or even dental restorations, such as crowns and fillings.
The American Dental Association recommends you avoid chewing on hard substances that may cause injury to your teeth. Or, if you do, take care when chewing by minimizing any risk of damage by chewing on smaller pieces if you can.
Most of us are aware that sugar is not good for our dental health. However, it is not the sugar on its own that is to blame but the bacteria in our mouths that feed off it.
This type of bacteria loves candies. However, the acid they produce is harmful to our teeth, eroding the protective layer of enamel which can lead to tooth decay. Additionally, the acid irritates gum tissues, causing inflammation. Untreated, this may develop into periodontal disease with the potential for disastrous repercussions on dental health.
Sticky and chewy candies are particularly troublesome. The stickiness adheres the sugar to teeth and gums long after the candy has been consumed. This gives bacteria more time to digest it with a greater capacity to create further damage.
If you feel like a sugary snack, have some chocolate instead. It melts quickly, is easy to wash away and is much better for your teeth than sticky candies.
You may be wondering why bread made the list, as it isn’t sweet. However, bread — particularly the white variety — is rich in starchy carbohydrates. When in your mouth, the starches are broken down into sugar by the enzymes in your saliva. The paste-like substance formed from chewing the bread is sticky, finding its way into gaps between the teeth. Here, it provides a hospitable place for those acid-secreting bacteria to have a feeding frenzy, which leads to the deposit of more harmful acid on your teeth and gums.
If you are craving a carb hit, go for unrefined varieties of bread containing whole grains which don’t contain as much sugar and are harder to break down.
The fruit is high in fiber and a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for good health and reducing the risk of disease. However, caution must be taken with some fruit to preserve oral health.
Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are loaded with vitamin C, which is essential for lots of functions throughout the body, including wound healing, collagen production and maintenance of bones and teeth.
However, citrus fruits have a high acid content that erodes tooth enamel, which could leave the tooth susceptible to decay. Furthermore, fruit contains natural sugars which tend to linger on the surface of the teeth and contributes to the growth of bacteria. Thus, citrus fruits, even in diluted form, can create a double health hazard to our teeth.
Dried fruit, such as raisins, dates and figs contain more fiber and antioxidants than fresh fruit and are truly beneficial to our overall health. But, for our teeth, dried fruits mean trouble. Sticky and packed with sugar, they are as bad for your teeth as the chewiest candies.
Canned fruits tend to be preserved in juices that contain lots of added, artificial sugars. Although artificial sugars are not a food source for bacteria, these products tend to contain high levels of acid that erodes tooth enamel.
The phrase “a little but often” does not do you good in terms of the impact of consuming fruit on your dental health. Limit your intake of fruit by consuming your daily intake to one sitting. Rinse your mouth with water afterward to neutralize pH levels in the mouth and sluice away sugars and acid.
5: Crackers or Saltines
Like bread, crackers may not appear to be particularly bad for your teeth, but they are. Similar to white bread, they are full of starchy, refined carbohydrates that stick to the teeth and are broken down to sugars that feed harmful bacteria.
Crackers also pose another danger for dental health because they are extremely dry and soak up saliva. Not only is saliva essential for digesting and swallowing food, but it contains antibacterial properties that protect teeth from cavities, as well as providing a lubricant to prevent food from sticking to teeth and gums.
Eating crackers with a dip can help to keep the mouth lubricated, or even better, pair your crackers with cheese — it is what they were made for! Cheese and other dairy products have a positive effect on dental health. They contain high levels of calcium and phosphate which strengthen teeth and help to balance the mouth’s pH levels by getting rid of harmful acids.
Being aware of what is harmful and how you can combat the bad effects will go some distance to keeping a clean bill of dental health. In addition, we’ve gathered a few more tips to keep your dental health in tip-top shape:
- Cut down on acidic and sticky food and drinks.
- After consuming, rinse the mouth with water to dilute and flush away the bad stuff and allow your saliva to return the mouth to its natural pH level.
- Consuming cheese or dairy products can cancel out acids and help to remineralize teeth.
- Wait an hour before cleaning your teeth after consuming acidic food or drink because brushing too quickly can harm the enamel.
- Drink more water.
- Chew gum containing Xylitol, which inhibits the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
You don’t have to stop consuming foods you love just because they are harmful to your mouth — simply act on these tips to enable you to tread the fine line between enjoying a little of what you fancy and not harming your dental health.
Amanda Duffy has worked for over 20 in the healthcare sector, including a decade in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. With considerable knowledge of the fields of dentistry and oral health, she has many years of experience writing high-quality informative dental content. Amanda is currently the lead dental writer at Rockwest Dental.