The Importance of Your Diet for Your Teeth's Health
Since you are here, you probably know how important your oral health is for your overall wellbeing. You are probably also aware of the importance of your diet for your dental health. It really seems the saying “You are what you eat” rings truer and truer and when it comes to dental health it’s even more important than usual.
We’ve already discussed at great length what the best foods for healthy teeth and gums are in another post. Now, it’s time to see what parts of your diet could put your oral health at danger. Of course, most of us will never be able to eat 100% clean and eliminate all the “dangerous” foods and drinks from our diet, but it is important to know what to pay attention to and how to minimize the potential dangers.
Beware teeth, sugars and acid are here!
We all know the name of the villain when it comes to your teeth – plaque. We also know who plaque’s evil minions are – sugar and acids. These are the main culprits as far as our mouth is concerned as they are personally responsible for enamel erosion, tooth decay and pretty much all dental problems. So, let’s try to find out what categories of foods and drinks are most dangerous to our mouths and hopefully this will be a step forward a better oral health for all.
Highly Acidic Foods
When it comes to your teeth, acidic foods (foods with low Ph rating) could be extremely dangerous. Why? Whether contained in foods or converted from sugars by your mouth's bacteria, acids can erode your teeth's enamel, causing cavities and tooth decay. A weaken enamel can also lead to a variety of problems ranging from sensitivity issues to discolored teeth.
Examples of high acidic foods: lemons, pickles, tomatoes, alcohol, coffee.
Examples of low acidic foods: bananas, avocados, broccoli, lean meat, whole grains, eggs, cheese, nuts, vegetables.
Foods High in Sugar
We all know sugar is bad for our teeth, but it’s important to know why exactly. The bad bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars to create acids and cavities are an infection caused by acids. The point here is that sugars in your mouth are often the first step in the process of cavities formation.
It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all sugars from your diet, but it’s important to try to minimize sugar intake (especially refined sugar) as much as possible. It’s also crucial to not let sugar lingers in your mouth for a long time. So, brushing your teeth after meals or at least drinking lots of water is vital.
Examples of foods high in sugar: sugar (duh), soft drinks, candies, dried fruit, desserts, jams, cereal.
An all-star villain when it comes to your teeth and gums’ health are foods that tend to stick and stay attached to and between your teeth for a very long time. The problem is such food debris turn into a plentiful energy supply for bacteria and their prolonged presence in your mouth allows bacteria to produce much more acid than normal. It’s vital to try to clean your teeth (flossing is best) as fast as possible and not leave sticky foods to linger in your mouth for hours.
Starchy foods and Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates are rightfully frowned upon for the many health dangers they pose. When consumed, they turn into sugars immediately in your mouth to kick-start the acid production by bad bacteria.
Many starchy foods, including white bread, potato chips, and pasta, can easily become lodged between teeth and in crevices. While you might not consider them as dangerous as sugar, it’s important to note the starches begin converting to sugar almost immediately by the pre-digestive process that begins in the mouth through the enzymes in saliva.
Foods that Dry Out Your Mouth
Your best defense against oral health issues is saliva. Nature’s most powerful way to take care of your teeth is at hand to help your mouth stay healthy by washing away plaque and bringing back key minerals to your teeth. Saliva prevents food from sticking to your teeth and may even help repair early signs of tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral infections. Unfortunately, when your mouth is dry, the saliva level in your mouth gets low and it can’t do its job properly.
Examples of foods and drinks that dry out your mouth excessively: alcohol, some medicine, coffee, energy drinks.
Very Hard Foods That You Chew On
Enamel is very hard. In fact, it’s the hardest part of your body! However, even it can’t endure you chewing often on very hard foods. It’s important to remember that if something is too hard, it’s not supposed to be chewed.
Many people have the bad habit of chewing on things like ice, hard candy, and unpopped popcorn. Most of the time your teeth handle the hard task, but you can damage your enamel and there is always a danger of chipping off a piece of your teeth. So, make your teeth a favor and avoid chewing on hard substances.
The 25 Worst Foods and Drinks for Your Teeth and Gums
Now we know the basics let’s dive in and see what some of the worst foods and drinks for your oral health actually are.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that some of the foods and drinks listed below might have some overall health benefits as well. However, in this post, we are mostly concerned with the effect they have on your dental health. We don’t advocate eliminating all of these foods and drinks from your diet altogether. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential negative effect they have on your mouth’s health and know how to minimize the danger when you happen to consume them.
The Worst Drinks for Your Teeth and Gums
Nothing deserves the first spot in this list as much as soda. We all know how bad soda is for pretty much all aspects of our health and oral health is not an exception. A vast number of studies have shown the link between soda consumption and cavities.
The danger is two-fold. First, sodas are highly acidic, and the acids found in them can harm your teeth even more than sugar by striping minerals from your enamel. Hence, even sugar-free (diet) sodas are still pretty bad for your teeth as they contain citric and phosphoric acid. Of course, regular, sugar-containing sodas are even worse, as they have the added danger of providing rich sugar feast for the bad bacteria in your mouth.
2) Sports drinks
Even though sports drinks sound healthy, they are packed with sugar and acids and the potential for cavities and erosion is very significant. A study of the erosive effect of acidic beverages on the teeth found sports drinks to be the most erosive drinks of the bunch. And that was competing with sodas and energy drinks which are among the most acidic drinks available.
3) Energy drinks
The same study from above found energy drinks to be the most acidic beverages, compared to sports drinks, sodas, and 100% juice and the second most erosive (second to only sports drinks). So be warned that in additions to wings, energy drinks might very well give you cavities as well.
We know Happy Hour is the biggest reason many of us go to work on Fridays but keep in mind that all alcoholic beverages pose a serious threat to your oral health. Alcohol causes dehydration and dry mouth. This reduces saliva flow which can cause serious problems over time such as tooth decay and gum disease. Sipping on sugary cocktails has the added danger of bathing your teeth in sugar for a long time.
Wine deserves special mention as we know it colors your teeth pretty bad and there are other dangers as well. Being an alcohol, wine dries your mouth and can also make teeth sticky, promoting stain formation. In addition, both red and white wines are very acidic which we already know is pretty bad for your teeth. Keep in mind that while red wine can stain your teeth more, white wines are more acidic, so they might be even more dangerous to your enamel.
It’s common knowledge how bad coffee stains your teeth, and coffee stains are among the worst for your teeth as they are very resistant. In addition, just like with wine, coffee makes teeth sticky and also dries out your mouth. It gets even worse if you add sugar to sweeten your coffee as there are few things worse for your teeth than sugar.
If that’s not enough, coffee is also acidic, which we know wears down enamel. Of course, we don’t expect you to stop drinking your favorite beverage, but to minimize the damage please drink plenty of water afterward and try to avoid additives like sugar.
7) Fruit juices
Even though not as bad as the drinks listed above, it’s good to know most fruit juices are highly acidic and have been linked to an increased risk of cavities. Of course, 100% fruit juices have some health benefits as well, so just be aware of their acidic nature and at least rinse your mouth with water after drinking them.
The Worst Foods for Your Teeth
8) Sticky/Chewy Candy
The chances of seeing a dentist munch on toffees or other chewy candy are pretty much equal to the chances of seeing a dinosaur. The reason, of course, is dentists know how bad sticky candy is for their teeth. Their high sugar content combined with their sticky nature makes them a nightmare for your teeth and oral bacteria’s favorite snack.
9) Hard candy
The only thing worse than having candy debris stuck at your teeth for a long time is chipping off a piece of your tooth. If you chew hard candies there is always a risk of damaging your enamel and in extreme cases, chipping a piece of your tooth off. So be extremely careful when chewing hard substances in general.
If you don’t chew hard candies but let them melt in your mouth it might be even worse. The problem is hard candies dissolve slowly and saturate your mouth with sugar for a long time, giving bad bacteria plenty of time to produce harmful acid. What’s even worse, many varieties of hard candy are flavored with citric acid which adds, even more, acid to your mouth.
10) Sour candy
Sour candy is so bad for your teeth it also deserves its own mention. Sour candy contains more and different kinds of acids than other varieties. What makes matters worse is you can’t solve the problem by brushing immediately after you eat them, because brushing too soon after consuming highly acidic foods or drinks could damage your enamel even further.
11) Dried fruits
Many people consider this to be a healthy snack choice and there is definitely some merit to that. However, when it comes to dental health, dried fruits spell trouble. The main problem is most dried fruits are very sticky and extremely high in sugar content. They are brimming with a big dose of natural sugars and non-soluble cellulose fiber which makes them as bad for your teeth as chewy candy. Your best alternative is to munch on fresh fruits instead.
12) Citrus Fruits
Yes, they are super-rich in Vitamin C and are loaded with a whole array of health benefits, but they are also loaded with acid which can erode and decay your tooth enamel. Lemon and grapefruit are most acidic, while orange is the least acidic of the group.
So if you enjoy squeezing lemons in your water and sipping on it throughout the day you might need to reconsider as a prolonged acid exposure is really bad for your teeth. It’s better to drink or eat your lemons in one sitting and then drink plenty of water to wash out the acid.
13) Canned fruit
Most fruits have a good amount of natural sugars in them, but canned varieties are infused with lots of added sugar as well which turns them into something you teeth wished you’d avoid. Canned citrus fruit is the worst, as they combine the very high sugar content with naturally contained acids.
While most crackers don’t contain sugars or acids and don’t stain your teeth they are still pretty dangerous to your teeth. The reason is the refined carbohydrates that quickly break down into sugar! Most crackers also get gooey when you chew them, so they stick between your teeth letting bacteria flourish.
15) Potato chips
Starchy foods like to get stuck between your teeth. As tasty as potato chips are, unfortunately, the starch in it and its mushy texture means it will stay trapped between your teeth for a long time. If possible, rinse with water and floss to remove the trapped debris.
16) White bread
It’s refined carbohydrates to blame again. When you chew on bread the enzymes in your saliva break down the starch into sugar. Now transformed into a gummy substance, the breadsticks between your teeth. To minimize the danger opt-in for whole wheat options instead.
We all love snacking on popcorn at the cinema but beware they pose some danger to your teeth as well. First, they can get trapped between your teeth, promoting bacteria growth. Unpopped ones are nasty as well as they are too hard and you can damage your enamel or chip off a tooth.
18) Peanut butter & jelly
Normally, we wouldn’t dare say a bad word against most people’s favorite breakfast, but the high sugar content and the stickiness of the ingredients make it a terrible choice for your teeth and a great one for the bacteria in your mouth.
It’s made out of pure water, so how bad can it be? Well, not at all, unless you decide to chew it. It’s a bad habit many people have, but for the sake of your teeth, please just let ice cool off your drinks and don’t chew on it.
We use vinegar mostly in salad dressings, sauces, pickles and some potato chips and it’s important to know it can trigger tooth decay. Studies have shown an increased risk of enamel erosion for people who frequently consume vinegar-containing foods. It’s a crucial ingredient for a tasty salad, but you need to remember to rinse your mouth with water afterward to minimize the potential danger.
The problem once again is acid. Vinegar is most often the culprit here. It’s what gives pickles their taste and also what makes them dangerous for your enamel. We agree pickles are super tasty on your sandwich, just keep in mind they are a real teeth’s nightmare and make sure to drink some water afterward to minimize the acid.
A surprise entry for sure, the problem your teeth have with tomatoes is they are acidic. Of course, if you eat them as a part of a meal, the danger is minimized. So just keep in mind that acidic foods, in general, are not very welcome by your teeth and drink water afterward to clean your mouth.
23) Breath mints / Cough Drops
Fresh breath is important, but breath mints are probably not the best option. Since they stay in your mouth for a very long time, you are in effect soaking your teeth in sugar. If possible try to find sugar-free options to minimize the danger.
They might soothe your cough, but most cough drops are loaded with sugar as well. In addition, they stay in your mouth for a long time so the potential for dental damage can be serious. Again, sugar-free options are better.
24) Tannic acid
Tannic acid is found in drinks like red wine, coffee, and black tea. These drinks will stain your teeth and make your teeth sticky. Tannins also tend to dry out your mouth, which means your saliva levels will be lowered.
25) Highly pigmented foods
Highly pigmented foods like berries, beets, and curry can easily stain your teeth. Yes, some of them are super-healthy, so please keep eating them, but you need to remember to rinse your mouth to reduce the stains.
Food is Meant to Make You Healthy and Happy
Other than providing you with energy, food is meant to make you healthy and happy, so don’t stress too much on what you eat as long as you follow a few basic principles which will help your teeth and gums stay healthy.
It’s better to avoid substances that have an extremely negative effect on your overall health (like soda), but even if you can’t eat 100% clean, the following principles will help your teeth and gums stay healthier:
- Your mouth needs a rest, so don’t munch on snacks all the time. Leave sufficient time for your mouth to recover and for saliva to naturally replenish minerals to your teeth. Keep your food intake to 3-5 times a day and let your mouth rest between meals.
- To minimize the danger of some of the foods and drinks on this list (and remember some of them have health benefits as well) try to consume them as a part of a meal, rather than on their own.
- Brushing after a meal is of course, always a great option. Just remember to wait 20 minutes if you’ve consumed highly acidic foods that have weakened your enamel.
- If possible, always rinse your mouth with water after a meal and drinks lots of water throughout the day as well.
- Use a straw when drinking highly acidic beverages to minimize their contact with your teeth.