Every day you hear messages shouting that THIS is good for you, THIS is bad for you. THIS is good for your teeth, THIS is not. EAT THIS, BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T EAT THAT! Let me cut through some of the hype. Here’s my dental perspective on how foods can hurt your teeth.
1) Trail mix and dried fruit are bad for your teeth.
Trail mix is yummy and not too different from candy. It contains dried fruit (concentrated fructose) chocolate bits and nuts. It’s meant to be a snack – not meant to be munched all day long. Is it healthy for you? I’m sure that in small quantities it is, but not all day, every day. Just because it is all-natural doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain sugar and acid.
Factoid #1: In ancient Greece, Archimedes figured out that people who ate a lot of figs got cavities. FYI – figs are sticky and full of sugar (fructose). Eat too many figs, too often, and you will get cavities – same with trail mix and all dried fruit.
2) Acidic beverages and foods are bad for your teeth.
Take a look at the label – citric acid, phosphoric acid, malic acid. Why is there acid in my food/drink? Acids serve as preservatives and flavoring. But acids also remove calcium from your teeth, which can create sensitivity and cavities. Even though your drink may be calorie-free, it may have a ton of acid (which doesn’t help your tummy either). Energy drinks, Crystal Light, flavored seltzer and sodas all contain significant amounts of acid. One of the worst offenders are chewable vitamin C tablets – a combination of citric acid and dextrose (sugar!)
Factoid #2: Craisins are cranberries (a sour fruit loaded with acid) soaked in sugar and dried. Craisins are the perfect, cavity-creating snack.
3) Sour candies like Skittles are bad for your teeth
Sour Patch kids, Warheads are all made sour with, you guessed it, acid. Laffy Taffy, licorice, Sugar Daddys and Milk Duds will pull out your fillings and break your teeth.
4) Hard stuff is bad for your teeth
Unpopped popcorn kernels, stale or super-hard nuts, ice cubes. It’s amazing how many times a patient will say, “I’m not giving up ice – I like crunching it.” (and I think to myself, “Ok, maybe I’ll be able to buy another Martin guitar (preferably a 1936 model 00-18)”). Also, if you have heavily filled front teeth, think twice before you tear into that hunk of hard bread crust.
Factoid #3 – I have a broken tooth that was caused by a popcorn kernel. Ouch!
5) Late night snacking is bad for your teeth
Did you ever wonder why we nibble after dinner? We’ve had a big meal and should be full, yet we crave salty and sugary things at night. The answer is: acid reflux (GERD). Salt and sugar cut down the sour taste of regurgitated stomach acid (one of the reasons that chicken soup tastes so good when you are not feeling good). Eat smaller dinners – watch out for tomato sauces (acid again) and resist the urge for dessert. And yes, I need to take my own advice.
Late night snacks also get trapped between your teeth and if you are not meticulous in your hygiene, bacteria in your mouth will have plenty of food to make (you guessed it) more acid! And the acid leads to calcium being taken out of your teeth, sensitivity and cavities.
6) Anything that you eat or suck on constantly is bad for your teeth
Sour balls/lollipops, the candy bowl at the receptionist’s desk, even crackers. Don’t forget Altoids and cough drops.
Summary of Good vs. Bad Foods and your Teeth:
- Most all food is safe for you to eat, but be reasonable. If it feels too hard to eat, it probably is. Anything too sweet or sour can be eaten as a treat, but don’t make it a habit.
- Eat at well-defined times: breakfast lunch, dinner and a snack or two. If you are munching on, or drinking something all day long, it may catch up with you. Don’t nibble. Don’t keep food in your mouth (ie. cough drops) unless you really need to. Watch out if you sip on a drink all day long (except plain water).
- Drink plenty of water. Not seltzer, not coffee, just plain, delicious water.
- Try not to eat after 6:00 or 6:30 pm. My Mom has been known to say, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” That’s good advice.
- When faced with a choice between the whole fruit (i.e. grapes) and the processed (raisins), eat the whole food.
- If you have heavily filled teeth, adjust your diet. Hard foods will break your teeth even further.
- If you have spaces between your teeth, it is imperative that you get all of the food out from those spaces before bedtime! (unless you really want me to have that 1936 Martin guitar)
- Eat your vegetables, get out in the sun and take walks (bring water).
- Ice cream will not hurt you (I will never give up my ice cream) and the jury is still out on beer (a rich source of Vitamin P).
Here’s my view:
Humans are omnivores. We can eat and digest all sort of things; but we weren’t meant to chew on our teeth all day long. The more often you use your teeth or the more food that you eat (or drink), the more likely there will be damage. If the food is sugary, acidic or gritty, the damage will happen faster. Over a lifetime, no matter what you do, your teeth will wear down.
Dr. Rick Liftig
Disclaimer: The information contained on Dr. Liftig’s website is meant to provide general information about dentistry. The information contained within this website is not intended to provide medical or dental advice, and should not be used as a substitute for medical and dental advice. Consult your dentist or physician for your specific condition. Dr. Liftig accepts no liability for the information provided pertaining to treatment.