Sugary sweets aren’t the only enemies of teeth
Sweet as Sugar
We’ve all heard it since we were little kids: Sugar is going to rot your teeth! But why has the focus always just been about sugar? Sure, it’s easy to stomach that sugar is the main culprit of cavities galore, but what exactly is it about sugar that is bad for teeth?
Bacteria that resides in our mouths have an easy (and enjoyable) time breaking down lots of different types of sugars and turning it into, ultimately, acids. Acids can decalcify or demineralize teeth and take away the structural content by eating away at tooth enamel, which then causes dental decay. The visible parts of the teeth are usually pretty safe from these acids because they can be washed away with water or when you brush your teeth. However, there are more problems lurking when sugar and food get trapped in the crevices of the teeth because bacteria have more time to feed on them.
So if you think you’re safe by avoiding just sugary candies, think again! There are less obvious offenders and can include sticky, starchy or hard foods that can just as easily damage your chompers.
Seven Food Don’ts
- Popcorn Kernels – Yes, popcorn is admittedly super tasty and low-cal, making it an ideal snack, however, these little kernels can wreak havoc on your smile. Unpopped kernels can break teeth, especially if there are fillings involved. Additionally, if you happen to get a hull stuck in your gums or between teeth, it may stay there until it becomes very irritating, causing damage to the gums. Especially avoid caramel popcorn. It’s sweet, chewy, sticky and can be hard, which all point to damage.
- Citrus fruits – Grapefruit, lemons and oranges are all packed with numerous health benefits, however, if you frequent these fruits, you are exposing your teeth to acid upon acid that can erode tooth enamel. Don’t avoid these foods as the health benefits are worth it, but just make sure to brush after enjoying.
- Sports drinks – It’s super important to stay hydrated, especially living in the Sunshine State, but water is a better option when compared to sports drinks or even sodas. Not only do these drinks contain a lot of sugar, they are typically enjoyed over a long period of time (sports game, lunch, etc.). The sugar is converted to an acid by the aforementioned bacteria, which dissolve the teeth to form cavities. Electrolytes are great, so if you’re going to drink sugar-laden drinks, enjoy them quickly and finish with a swig of H20.
- Ice – If you’re looking for a crunchy snack that doesn’t include calories, ice might seem like a good option. However, chewing on hard substances can leave teeth vulnerable to dental emergencies and can damage enamel. If your teeth are worn or chipped already, the ice can crack and damage the tooth structure even more.
- Potato chips – Even though potato chips are a delicious gift from the heavens, steer clear of them if you’d like to maintain healthy teeth. Potato chips are filled with starch, which tends to get trapped in your teeth, especially if you’re a fan of the wavy chips. So if you pop open a bag, make sure to floss and brush to remove all of the food particles that can lead to plaque buildup.
- Dried fruits – Raisins, dried plums, apricots and more are all delicious, but are very loaded with sugar and tend to be very sticky. You think you’re getting your daily dose of vitamins, but you’re actually giving the bacteria in your mouth a long-lasting sugar party. Try and stick to fresh fruit, or just make sure to brush afterward.
- Peanut butter – This is pretty much a staple for anyone in college, and even though it’s loaded with tons of protein and fiber, it’s super sticky and sweet and clings to your teeth the same way that candies do. If you can’t shake your PB&J lunches, or the late-night spoonfuls, just make sure to wash it down with a tall glass of water.
The moral of the story is that the more you pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth, the better chances you have of avoiding cavities. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive, especially because it’s easier to maintain a healthy mouth than to try and get back to a healthy mouth once you have cavities, fillings, periodontal disease, etc. If you’re going to indulge in sugary, sticky, hard and starchy, make sure to do so infrequently and always follow it with water, floss and a thorough brushing of the teeth. Snack smart and smile healthy!