Having a great smile takes more than brushing and flossing, yet it’s often forgotten that diet can have a huge impact on those pearly whites. Sure, everyone knows that sugary foods are bad for your teeth. Most people realize that coffee is right up there with smoking in its ability to stain teeth. These foods have been known culprits for years, but there are a lot of surprising and unexpected foods that also impact your dental health.
Let’s start with the most obvious culprit. Sugary drinks, candy, and sweetened snacks contain a good deal of sugar. When the bacteria in your mouth break down that sugar it creates an acid that eats at the enamel of your teeth. This opens your teeth up to all kinds of potential damage. While all sugary foods are obvious problems, gummy candies that stick to your teeth and hard candies can cause the most problems due to long term contact with sugars. Soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks are often sipped which means repeatedly exposing your mouth to those sugars and acids. Each bite of candy or sip of soda exposes your mouth to the acids produced for up to twenty minutes, which can mean constant exposure for those who sip on juice or soda all day.
Starchy foods are also something to watch. Starches, like sugars, raise the acid levels in your mouth, eroding tooth enamel. More processed starches, such as breads and pasta, are the most damaging. Raw starches, like those from raw vegetables, provide no risk of damage to the enamel. Many of these processed starches also present an additional problem with getting stuck in the teeth, resulting in longer than necessary exposure to the spaces between the teeth. These areas are the most difficult to rinse free of acids with saliva. Foods containing starchy, sugary foods can cause the most problems as they tend to stick in the teeth.
While it’s easy to think of that candy bar or that breakfast pastry as being damaging to your teeth, the damage doesn’t stop there. Childhood favorites like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, raisins, and even apples are unexpected dangers for your teeth. Peanut butter is sticky and many have sugar added. Natural peanut butter will reduce the risk, but its sticky nature is still problematic. Worse still are the sticky, sweet jellies, jams, and preserves. Even an all-fruit spread contains a good deal of natural sugars. Raisins contain a high amount of natural sugars as well, putting them on the list. Apples are also very high in acid and can be very hard on tooth enamel.
Highly acidic foods are also often underestimated. Many of these acidic foods also contain high quantities of sugar in their processing as well, such as salad dressings. While salads are a healthy choice, the most preferred dressings tend to be made with vinegar with sugar for taste. Pickled vegetables are soaked in vinegar and often times, sugar. Lemons are another great culprit, especially when processed into lemonade. Lemonade does dilute the acid from the lemons in water, but often time that benefit is canceled out by the addition of sugars. Surprisingly, diet sodas are incredibly damaging for this very reason. They may not have sugar, but they’re highly acidic.
Any food that gets stuck in your teeth can also have serious results. The spaces between your teeth trap bacteria well enough on their own and the addition of foods doesn’t make it better. Popcorn, meat, apple skins, and breads are all problem foods in this area.
Damage to tooth enamel isn’t the only way diet can damage your smile. Many foods and drinks can have a discoloring effect as well. It’s fairly well known that coffee discolors teeth. Black tea is no better. Add sweeteners to either of those and you’re both staining and degrading the enamel. Some other culprits are soy sauce, red wine, tomato sauce, and sodas.
So, what can you do about these damaging effects?
According to Dr. Takacs, a sedation dentist in Lexington, KY, the best solution is to brush after every meal, and limit your meals to three a day. Snacking between meals can drastically increase your exposure to sugars. If you have to reach for something sweet, go for a sugar-free gum. Not only does it help limit your exposure to sugars, but chewing gum also increases saliva production, which helps cleanse harmful acids from your mouth. Drink water or sugar-free juice between meals, or opt to drink through a straw to limit the exposure to your mouth. Be aware of how acidic, sweet and sticky your foods are as well as how long they stay in your mouth. Don’t forget to check ingredient lists for hidden sugars. It never hurts to be aware of what you’re eating.