- Are you drinking soda or sweetened coffee or tea all day?
- Do you dip into the candy dish often as a pick-me-up?
- Do you skip meals and instead drink smoothies or grab some pretzels to get through the day?
- Are sports or energy drinks a staple after a workout?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be damaging your teeth. This brochure will tell you why and what you can do to keep your mouth healthy.
What and How Often You Eat Can Affect Your Teeth
Certain eating patterns and food choices can lead to tooth erosion (ee-ROW-shun) and cavities. A steady diet of food and drinks that are sugary or acidic can damage your teeth. This includes soda and sports and energy drinks. It even includes seemingly healthy snacks like dried fruit or pretzels, which can be a problem if they stick to your teeth.
Plaque is the sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. When plaque is left on your teeth, the bacteria in the plaque use the sugar left over from food and drinks to make acid. This acid attacks the hard surface of your teeth known as enamel (e-NAM-uhl). The acid can wear away your enamel, and cavities can start to form. Cavities do not go away on their own and must be treated by a dentist.
Having sugary foods or drinks many times a day allows bacteria to make acid throughout the day. This raises your risk of getting cavities. Repeated exposure to foods or drinks that are acidic raises your risk of tooth erosion (Figure 1).
A Healthy Diet Keeps Your Mouth Healthy
You often hear that eating a well-balanced diet reduces your risk of things like heart disease and diabetes. But, eating a healthy diet is also good for helping you avoid cavities. For teeth to be healthy, they need vitamins, protein, calcium and phosphorous — and you can get all of these from a healthy diet.
What is a healthy diet?
A healthy diet includes the right amounts and variety of
- whole fruits and vegetables
- whole grains like brow-fluidn rice and oatmeal
- proteins like meats, beans, eggs, poultry and fish
- calcium-rich foods like Greek yogurt, cheese and milk
In addition, a healthy diet is low in added sugar, trans fats and saturated fats. MyPlate (Figure 2) shows the five food groups that are the building blocks of a healthy diet.
Natural Sugars and Whole Foods
Many foods and drinks — like apples, oranges, bananas, carrots and milk — naturally contain sugars and also have vitamins, minerals and nutrients that your body needs to be healthy. To lower your risk of cavities, avoid foods — like candy and cookies — that contain a lot of sugar but few other nutrients.
A lot of sugar can slip by in the things you drink. Take a look at how much added sugar there is in popular beverages like fruit drinks and sodas (Figure 3).
Lower Your Risk of Erosion and Cavities
- Avoid sugary drinks when possible. Many sports and energy drinks as well as sodas and sweetened teas have a lot of acid and sugar. Even fruit juices that are “100% juice” can be acidic and high in sugar.
- Limit snacks between meals. Choose foods that are low in acid and sugar, like an apple or a handful of almonds. Try to follow up with a glass of water. This can help rinse bits of food from your mouth, but it does not replace brushing and flossing regularly.
- If you have sugary foods and drinks, have them with meals. Saliva increases during meals, which helps weaken acid and rinse bits of food from your mouth.
- Chew sugarless gum that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Chewing gum after meals increases saliva and can help reduce cavities.
- Drink water. Drinking tap water with fluoride (FLOOR-eyed) can help prevent cavities.
See your dentist regularly. And, brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
Look for oral health products that display the ADA Seal of Acceptance. The ADA Seal is your sign that these products are tested and proven to be safe and effective in keeping your mouth healthy.