As the saying goes, “you are what you eat” - and there’s no better place to see this than in your mouth! Many of the foods and drinks that we consume actively encourage the growth of bacteria-laden plaque in our mouths, which is a main factor in the development of cavities (aka tooth decay). And if you don’t clean your teeth properly, plaque eventually hardens into tartar, which contributes to gum disease and can only be removed with special tools by a dentist or hygienist. Let’s take a look at the top 7 worst foods for our teeth:
1. Starchy Foods
Starchy foods like potato chips, crackers, and soft breads are perhaps unexpectedly bad for your teeth. As you chew, saliva breaks down the starches into sugar, while simultaneously transforming the starchy food into a gummy, paste-like substance - which is particularly good at sticking to the grooves on our molars and crevices between teeth. When you get the carb craving, choose whole wheat options. They are less refined, have less added sugars, and are thus less easily broken down. Swish your mouth with water after indulging to help rinse away clingy food debris, too!
2. Sticky Snacks, like Gummies and Dried Fruits
Sticky and starchy foods are bad for our teeth for similar reasons: because they cling to our teeth very well and contain a high amount of sugar. And if you have fillings or crowns, think twice before reaching for a sticky snack, because sticky foods can also loosen or even dislodge fillings and crowns. If you do indulge in sticky foods, be sure to rinse your mouth and brush and floss thoroughly after.
3. Hard Candies
When you suck on a piece of hard candy, you are essentially bathing your entire mouth with sugar for a sustained period of time, and letting the sugary remnants coat your teeth and gums afterwards to boot. Chewing on hard candies can also result in chipped or broken teeth. Limit your intake of hard candies, don’t chew on them, and always rinse and clean your mouth thoroughly after.
What could possibly be wrong with ice? As the stuff to cool your drinks, nothing. As something to chew on, lots! We see far too many patients come in with chipped, cracked, or broken teeth, fillings and crowns, all because of an ice-chewing habit. To resist the urge, opt for chilled drinks without ice.
5. Citrus and Other Acidic Foods+Drink
Although oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and other citrus fruits are delicious and packed with vitamin C, their high acid content can erode enamel over time, leaving our teeth more vulnerable to decay. This applies to all acidic foods and drinks, like tomatoes, citrus-infused water, and sodas (diet or regular!). You don’t have to avoid acidic foods and drinks completely, but consume them with a meal to dilute their acidic impact on teeth and rinse with plain water afterwards. Do not brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after; because acidic foods soften tooth enamel, brushing too soon after eating can damage enamel while it’s in its weakened state.
6. Soda and Sports Drinks
Carbonated drinks and sports drinks are usually very high in sugar, and drinking them is essentially bathing teeth in sugar. Even diet sodas aren’t teeth-friendly; sodas are typically very acidic, which is bad for our teeth (see above). If you do drink soda or sports drinks regularly, try to limit your intake. Drink them along with food, and don’t sip throughout the day.
Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and dry mouth, which are issues that can cause serious problems over time. A dry mouth lacks saliva, which is necessary for a healthy mouth and teeth. Drinking excessively can lead to cavities, gum disease, increased risk of oral infections, and even an increased risk of oral cancer. But as with all the items on this “Top 7 Worst” list, consuming in moderation is perfectly fine as long as you are still cleaning your mouth properly and regularly. Have plenty of water while drinking; it will help stave off dehydration and also help rinse away sugars and acids from alcohol. And as always, be sure to brush and floss well afterwards!