The foods you eat and the beverages you drink can have a direct influence on the incidence and progression of tooth decay.
These factors depend upon…
- The form of the food—whether it’s liquid, solid, sticky or slow to dissolve makes a difference.
- How often you eat sugary foods and beverages and how often you eat or drink acidic foods and beverages.
- The nutritional makeup of the food.
- The combination of the foods you eat and the order in which you eat them.
- Medical conditions you may have, such as gastrointestinal reflux and eating disorders, which can increase risk of cavities and weaken teeth.
The bacteria in your mouth use carbohydrates for food, so when you cut back on sugar, and other sources of simple carbohydrates that are easily fermentable, you reduce your cavity risk. Limit added sugars in your diet by reading food labels to determine the amount of added sugar in a food. Since ingredients are listed on the label in order of weight, from most to least, if one of the following terms is listed as one of the first few ingredients, it’s a good bet that food is high in sugar. Another tip for spotting sources of sugar—terms ending in “-ose” indicate a sugar ingredient.
Empty calorie foods such as candy (especially hard or sticky candies like lollipops, mints, taffy and caramel), sweets like cookies, cakes and muffins, and snack foods like chips are a cause for dental concern, not only because they offer no nutritional value, but because the amount and type of sugar that they contain that can adhere to teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed off these sugars, releasing acids, and that’s what leads to tooth decay.
Sugar-containing drinks—soda, lemonade, juice and sweetened coffee or tea (iced or hot)—are particularly harmful because sipping them causes a constant sugar bath over teeth, which promotes tooth decay. Learn more about the potentially harmful oral health effects of drinking acidic and sugary drinks here from the Indiana Dental Association’s Drinks Destroy Teeth.
Nutritious, acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have acidic effects on tooth enamel, too, so eat them as part of a meal, not by themselves. Dried fruits, including raisins, are also good choices for a healthy diet, but since they are sticky and adhere to teeth, the plaque acids that they produce continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them. Opt for a piece of fresh fruit instead.
Foods That May Benefit Dental Health in your Diet
Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, calcium-fortified tofu, leafy greens and almonds, are foods that may benefit tooth health thanks to their high amounts of calcium and other nutrients they provide. Protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs are the best sources of phosphorus. Both of these minerals play a critical role in dental health, by protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for a healthy smile since they are high in water and fiber, which balance the sugars they contain and help to clean the teeth. These foods also help stimulate saliva production, which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth and helps neutralize acid, protecting teeth from decay. Plus, many contain vitamin C (important for healthy gums and quick healing of wounds) and vitamin A (another key nutrient in building tooth enamel).
Hands down, water—particularly fluoridated water—is the most tooth-friendly beverage.
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