If eyes are the windows to your soul, teeth are a surprisingly accurate window to your overall health. And the health of your pearly whites is mostly correlated to their maintenance. It takes quite a bit of diligence to keep them looking and feeling sharp (so to speak).
Brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, and regular professional cleanings aren’t enough to keep your teeth in excellent condition. What you do to maintain a healthy smile is just as important as what you don’t, according to dentists. Avoiding certain foods and drinks that can damage your teeth is crucial. (See also: smoking/vaping, but I don’t need to tell you that, right? Right?!)
Consumption of the wrong things can cause several issues for your teeth, says Jonathan Levine DMD, PC, dental consultant for clean toothpaste brand Twice, including decay, inflammation due to imbalanced bacteria, and wear from stress imposed by tough-to-chew foods.
These are the foods a dentist wants you to eat less often
1. All things sugar, especially if it’s sticky
If you’re surprised by this one, you just haven’t been listening all along. “The number one high-risk thing you can do [for your teeth] is consume sugar,” says Dr. Levine. “It breaks down from the bacteria [in your mouth] and causes demineralization or decay of the enamel.” The worst offenders, he says, are gummy candies that stick to your teeth. “They just sit there as the bacteria are colonizing and having a field day,” he explains. This warning applies to dried fruit as well, says Marc Hayashi, D.M.D., assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, which is bad news for my Trader Joe’s dried mango addiction. Dr. Hayashi also says the melatonin chews I eat before bed aren’t so great for my teeth either, but simply advises brushing as a solution (versus abstinence). In fact, this is good advice after consuming anything sugary, as is downing a glass of water so as to rinse away remnants; however, moderation with sugar is key. If you can’t quite contain your sweet tooth, though, it might be time to try hypnotherapy?
2. All things acidic
Dr. Levine calls acidic foods and drinks the second-worst enemy of oral health. “Anything that has an acidic environment throws off the balancing act between good and bad bacteria,” he explains. “And when you have [too much] bad bacteria, it sets up an environment for the bad bugs that cause inflammation in the mouth to thrive.” It also, adds Dr. Hayashi, causes tooth wear and erosion.
Both docs advise against direct consumption of citrus fruits, but Dr. Levine says that lemon water is diluted enough to be safe for your teeth. Additionally, he recommends balancing the acidic foods in your diet, such as proteins, with alkalizing foods such as (non-citrus) fruits and vegetables.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone either, but both docs recommend avoiding sodas as they’re not only acidic but sugary, too, packing a one-two punch against your oral health. “It’s like pushing your teeth into battery acid,” says Dr. Levine. The same goes for sports drinks, though low-sugar electrolyte beverages won’t pose the same risks.
When I ask Dr. Hayashi if the soda warning applies to sparkling water beverages as well, I expect him to assure me this is not the case. He does not, however, oblige. “Those are actually pretty acidic, so they’re not great either,” he says. “[They’re] not as bad as a coke, but they’re still bad.” (*Rethinks entire life while sipping a LaCroix because it’s a heat wave and you can’t win them all*)
My other can’t-live-without beverage, coffee, is also acidic, but only a little bit, says Dr. Hayashi; however, it’s a diuretic, which means that its consumption can dry out your mouth and thus reduce the protective effects of your saliva. (The same is true of alcohol.) To enhance saliva’s benefits, on the other hand, Dr. Levine offers some surprising advice. “Chewing sugar-free gum is also beneficial to your teeth. People think gum is a really bad thing, but sugarless gum activates saliva in the mouth and saliva is a buffering agent which takes the low pH, acidic environment that most of us Americans have and neutralizes it,” he explains.
Before you freak out, it’s not so much that you need to avoid consuming nuts as it is that you might need to alter the way in which you consume them. Dr. Levine tells me that opening pistachios with your front teeth or eating super-hard nuts with your front teeth will wear those teeth down. He recommends soaking almonds in olive oil to soften them before eating, especially if you’ve had dental work (e.g., crowns or veneers) done.
4. Seeds and kernels
Dr. Levine warns that that seeds (sesame, caraway, etc.) can get stuck in the spaces between your teeth or get under the gums, creating a painful abscess. Popcorn kernels are problematic in this way, too. And while you don’t have to completely cut them out of your diet, it’s a good idea to chase them with a glass of water and brush your teeth after consumption.
I’m not sure that ice counts as a food, but Dr. Hayashi wants you to stop trying to eat it. “For some reason people like to chew on ice,” he says. “That will definitely break your teeth.” For this reason (and because sugar), hard candies should also be avoided.
6. Starchy snacks
“Starchy foods like chips can be bad, too,” says Dr. Hayashi. This is due to their sugar content, but also because they tend to crumble into tiny pieces that stick to and between your teeth. “It ends up putting a lot of sugar in those areas around your teeth and makes them prone to decay,” he explains. Since whole (non-citrus) fruits and veggies are actually good for your teeth and your overall health, they’re a no-brainer replacement for, you know, these tooth-decay-causing Doritos.
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