10 Foods You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Teeth

by | May 4, 2011

Photo by ♥serendipity

Today’s post is from guest blogger Robert Milton. He blogs for Jollyville Dental, an Austin dentist, who specializes in cosmetic dental procedures and Invisalign braces.

10 Foods You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Teeth

by Robert Milton

Most people know candy and other sugary foods wreak havoc on their teeth, but how about fruit?

You’ve probably heard brushing and flossing twice a day is the best way to keep your teeth healthy. But some foods cause enough damage to warrant extra cleanings.

How does food damage your teeth?

There are two main elements of food that tarnish your pearly whites: sugar and acid.

Sugars, especially sucrose (table sugar), feed the millions of bacteria already in your mouth. Bacteria feast on your plaque buildup and produce lactic acid, which erodes your tooth enamel. Sucrose is the worst form of sugar because it adheres to teeth very strongly making it (and the bacteria) difficult to remove even when brushing.

Acids naturally occur in many foods, including fruit. In these cases, bacteria aren’t necessary to produce acid and cause tooth decay. Instead, acidic foods eat away at your enamel and break down your teeth directly.

Generally you can wash away natural acids by drinking water. Ironically, brushing soon after consuming acidic foods or beverages can actually cause more damage. Because teeth are porous, brushing softens them and makes them more susceptible to acid. After eating acidic foods, you should wait at least an hour before brushing.

What foods should you worry about?

In addition to the sugar and acid in foods, you should consider the length of time food is left on your teeth. The more time bacteria have to produce acids, the more damage will be done.

While many of these foods are healthy for other reasons, you should try and care for your teeth soon after eating them. Drinking water with your meal, chewing sugar-less gum, rinsing with an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash or flossing and brushing with toothpaste reduces the risk of damage.

Look out for:

  • Sugar and/or acid content
  • Stickiness (how much food remains on teeth)
  • How long the food is in your mouth

10 Foods That Damage Your Teeth

1. Apples

Apples are high in acid, are surprisingly hard on your enamel. While a daily apple may keep the doctor away, the acid might keep your dentist on speed dial. Eating apples is fine, just be sure to rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash shortly after.

2. Hard candies

Though you probably know the sugar in candy is a problem, hard candies are especially harmful because we tend to hold them in our mouths longer. Also be aware that cough drops are often made with sugar, so opt for the sugar-free brand if available.

3. Pickled vegetables

Pickles are made with vinegar, which is acidic, and often sugar as well. While the vegetables are healthy, the brine is can damage your teeth. Drinking water with your meal helps wash away acids and sugar, but remember to brush an hour later.

4. Bread

Many breads contain sugar—especially processed white breads. It’s best to check the labels for any added sweeteners that will breed mouth bacteria. Bread is also sticky and gets between and behind your teeth.

5. Popcorn

Popcorn is notorious for getting stuck in your teeth, and the areas between your teeth will cultivate more bacteria for that reason. It’s okay to treat yourself to a bag of popcorn as long as you rinse with water and remember to floss and brush after.

6. Peanut butter

Sticky and often made with sugar, peanut butter not only feeds bacteria but makes it easier for them to adhere to teeth. Look for natural peanut butters with no added sugars to lessen the problem.

7. Jelly

Along with peanut butter, jelly or jam is loaded with sugar and quite sticky. Even the all-fruit brands contain natural sugars and encourage plaque and bacteria if not washed away soon.

8. Meat

Meat tends to get stuck between your teeth, and some meat products contain sugar as a preservative. While the amount may not be very high, any food that sits between your teeth can promote tooth decay. Try chewing sugar-less gum after eating if you can’t brush right away.

9. Diet soda

Just because it doesn’t have sugar doesn’t mean your teeth are safe. The acidity of diet sodas is still extremely high, making it one of the worst products for your teeth.

10. Salad dressing

More of a condiment than a food, salad dressings use vinegar and sugar for flavor. Salads should be a staple in anyone’s diet, but be careful of the dressings that can harm your smile.

What are your tips to reduce tooth decay?

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30 Responses to “10 Foods You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Teeth”

  1. Mike says:

    What about the various cultures that regularly consume pickled vegetables? (Japan, etc.) Do they have a history of dental issues because of this?

    • Thanks for the question, Mike! There’s an overall global trend of an increase of dental issues among developing countries. The problem is as a country becomes more industrialized there’s a gap created by a higher consumption of sugary foods, alcohol, and tobacco and the lack of health resources such as fluoride and dental facilities. So interestingly, the countries that have better oral health are the richest (access to dental care) and poorest (lower consumption of sugars).

      • brian says:

        So you think flouride is good? lost me there, you and your blog have zero credibility moving forward, but good attempt at tricking people into thinking you know what you are talking about. Flouride is a neurotoxin, and does nothing for anyone’s teeth.

      • Darya Pino says:

        So… I have a PhD in neuroscience and have spent several hours investigating your hypothesis, and couldn’t come up with any compelling evidence to support it. You’re more than welcome to disagree with me here, but kindly do us the honors of citing your sources.

      • brian says:

        Start in nazi germany, that will help you,
        you can also look here:
        http://polioforever.wordpress.com/fluoride/

        beyond amazed that you could be a ‘phd’ and us non phd’s could do actual research and figure this all out?

        What does that say about our education system where someone with a neuroscience Phd, cannot know basic fundamentals about neuroscience? Of course the link will be skipped and some text book from somewhere will be cited as gospel and you will go on telling people ‘flouride is good’ even with the piles of tests that have come out just recently, including from Phd capital of the world harvard.

        The best thing you can do when you have a blog is do research, know your facts, because people look at your blog, and some think you will know what you are talking about, simply because you have created a website. They will use flouride in their toothpaste despite that it does nothing to make teeth or bones stronger and drink flouridated water despite the body has no reason to ingest this type of flouride.

        There is of course more that you can research on this topic, the manhattan project, the fact it is a dumping ground for aluminum by products, is useless to the body (except as a neurotoxin) and so on.

        But then again, you have a Phd, so you know all… and you have been a Phd for 20 years, so you definitely know all.

        Of course i would provide you more sources, but i am pretty sure you won’t even give this one the time of day, nor the links contained therein, backed ALL by facts, data, timelines, moneyflow and more.

        They taught you well, I know, because you are a Phd

        Take care

      • Darya Pino says:

        Just to clarify, histories and testimonials aren’t the same as rigorous scientific experimentation, which is what I was looking for.

      • jesmomo says:

        I agree. I am taken aback at brian’s strong words and weak evidences.

  2. Apple shocked me! And peanut butter scared me… I eat SO much PB. Off to go brush my teeth again… :)

  3. Jason says:

    It’s helpful to remember about acidic foods being hard on your teeth. I know I’m mostly concerned with sugary drinks, but often neglect brushing after eating acidic foods. I tend to be a hot sauce addict and they tend to have a lot of vinegar.

  4. Rachel says:

    A lot of this I already knew. Another one that should be on the list is coffee, particularly if you use milk and sweetener. Several years ago, when I first started college (around age 18), I was drinking nearly a pot of black coffee per day (I had been drinking black coffee since age 11). When I went to the dentist, based on the staining on my teeth, he asked if I was a smoker (I had never smoked). Apparently the level of staining I had was equivalent to smoking a pack a day on my teeth! And that was without using cream or sugar.

    The dentist recommended I cut back to a maximum of two cups per day and to start using plain milk (no sweetener, no artificial creamers) to minimize the staining. Since then I have cut back dramatically.

    On a different note, I was surprised to see apples on the list. I seem to remember an old wives’ tale as a child that basically said that if you weren’t able to brush your teeth before bed, eating an apple was the next best thing. Anyone else ever hear that one?

    • Hi Rachel,
      We could have another full list of all the foods and drinks that stain teeth! Coffee–definitely, blueberries, tea, colored soft drinks, red wine, fruit juice, etc.
      I have heard about eating an apple to clean teeth also. The crunching down and chewing on certain foods can remove food particles and increase saliva production. But the acid and sugar content of an apple is notably high, so to eat one before bed as a means of brushing leaves your teeth coated overnight. I wouldn’t suggest it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I always get apple stuck between my teeth so I have to make sure to floss.
      Thanks for commenting!

    • Sylak says:

      You have to understand that apples in the past had far less acid sugar than the commercially available apples in the supermarkets today which are engineered to have longer shelf lives than traditional varieties. To sum up: the old wives tale may once have had more truth in it once; but, sadly no longer applies.

      • kim says:

        How did you know the are differences of acidity level between past apple and nowadays apple.

    • William says:

      Could you elaborate on the sweetener thing? I recently started taking Sweetex as an alternative to sugar (two in each cup of tea). Thanks :)

  5. Adam says:

    Wow! This is some great info! I really had no idea…

    An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but I guess it works in reverse for dentists!

    :)

    Thanks for the great info!

    Adam

  6. Kevin says:

    I eat 7/10 of the listed pretty regularly. Now I’m going to have even more dreams of my teeth falling out.

  7. Brian says:

    Re: number 9, it should be pointed out that many other beverages are equally acidic. The pH of fruit juice, white wine and soda are roughly in the same ballpark.

    I would argue that the acidity of a beverage is largely irrelevant in relation to tooth decay, simply because liquids are not typically kept in the mouth for an extended period of time. If somebody is really concerned they could just rinse with water after consuming an acidic beverage.

  8. Great article; was hoping you’d talk about fluoride! I know conspiracy theories blow fluoride’s danger out of proportion, but interesting how it is a lot less “fine and dandy” than toothpaste companies might lead you to believe…

  9. Tuck says:

    Starch is turned into glucose in the mouth via amaylase, so bread’s a double-whammy.

    Additionally wheat can interfere with the vitamin D metabolism, and was used by the discoverer of vit. D to induce rickets. Grains in general are probably best avoided, as this post reviewing Mellanby’s tooth-decay-reversing diet demonstrates:

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/12/dr-mellanbys-tooth-decay-reversal-diet.html

  10. hosia says:

    How about finishing up with some raw celery? Isn’t it natures’ toothbrush?

    • William says:

      I don’t know about that, hosia, but I do recall noticing how many Indian people at college (in the UK), had pristine teeth. Many of them also ate curries so naturally I wondered how their teeth remained so clean. My Indian friend told me the name of a an Asian plant you can chew on; it’s supposed to do wonders for your teeth. Sorry if it seems I’m being lazy and not answering your question or providing a proper source for my own comment.

  11. Greg says:

    This is an interesting list. I wore braces from age 8-13, so worry a lot about this subject. My wife always disagree about giving our kids “gummy” style vitamins at bedtime for just this reason. I tend to believe no matter how hard they brush, that stuff isn’t coming off their teeth before they go to sleep…

  12. Bunny says:

    #8 bothered me a bit that he recommended brushing if you got steak stuck in your teeth; a good dentist will tell you to FLOSS. If you don’t have time to brush, FLOSSING is always the priority! Brushing won’t get rid of food or plaque stuck between your teeth well enough.

  13. Robert Milton says:

    You’re absolutely right. If you don’t have time to both brush and floss, then you should opt to floss. However, both are equally important for good oral hygiene. Brush to get sugars in meat off your teeth. Floss to get meat out from between your teeth. Thanks Bunny!

  14. William says:

    You should never brush your teeth straight after every meal, since you’ll actually do more harm than good. It’s akin to rubbing a layer of dirt into your teeth, rather than letting your saliva levels replenish and start to wash it away. The toothpaste actually seals in the bacteria. Wait at least 45 mins before you brush. It’s far better simply to swill your mouth out with water after every meal, as this will help replenish to pH levels and swish away and nasty sugars attempting to cling to your teeth.

  15. William says:

    If you’re addicted to cola and stimulation drinks, at least use a straw. Note, this will only reduce rather than eliminate, the amount of sugars and sweeteners lacing your teeth. These two drinks are notoriously high in sugar content, so much so that this is the reason you feel full of energy (until you crash at least). As the article says, even diet versions aren’t entirely safe, and all brands of cola no matter how cheap or expensive are a risk. Learn how to use the straw effectively so that the liquid goes straight down the back of your throat. When you’re done simply swill your mouth out with water (this is good practice with both meals and drinks). Left untreated, cola will destroy your oral health; it rotted many of my teeth away and I had to have implants. Even with implants, your gums need special care as the cola makes them recede due to the sheer amount of acid in your mouth. I never knew about these things until it was too late.

  16. tjj says:

    Peanut butter ( because it has sugar )
    Meat ( because it has added sugar)
    bread ( because it has added sugar )

    Dont give things a bad name just because some companies add sugar, you can find all of these products without any added sugar.

  17. Bolo says:

    Well actually if you take care of your teeth after each meal (and here I talk about brushing and mouthwash, not chewing gum!), the damages inflicted are minimum.
    So I say you can eat everything as long as you don’t neglect your teeth, at least 2 brushes a day and a mouthwash after each of these “dangerous meals” should do the job.

  18. Gray Leadbetter says:

    Marshmallows

  19. Gray Leadbetter says:

    Marshmallows are bad for you teeth really bad

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