Want a healthy mouth? It takes more than just good oral hygiene!
In dentistry we focus a great deal on oral hygiene, encouraging proper brushing and flossing and appropriate use of rinses and other gadgetry. We wag our finger at too much candy and soda, but we may not always do a proper job of explaining how every dietary choice you make can have an impact on the health of your teeth and gums.
In reality, many people take an “I’m going to brush my teeth later, anyway” attitude, which can lead you to make some poor choices.
- It’s okay to eat a bag of candy after lunch because I brush my teeth really well every night before bed.
- I can feel that potato crisp gunk sitting in my teeth, but it’s okay because I will brush my teeth before I sleep.
In reality, it’s really not okay to let sugary or starchy residue sit on your teeth for half a day. Mouth bacteria can make quite a lot of mischief in that time!
Know Your Enemies: Foods that Create an Unhealthy Mouth Environment
The foods and beverages you choose to put into your mouth have an immediate impact on your oral health. (You don’t have to fall asleep with a dirty mouth to put your teeth at risk.) The qualities you most want to avoid are sugary, starchy, and acidic foods—as well as foods that may pose a structural risk.
Acidic Foods and Beverages
Acid is the enemy of tooth enamel, and strongly acidic foods and drinks can lower the pH level in your mouth, endangering all your teeth. Every time you let an acidic food or drink be the last thing you put into your mouth, you alter your mouth environment until you eat or drink again.
Your saliva does a fine job of neutralizing acid, but it can’t completely neutralize the worst offenders. An acidic mouth environment can be especially damaging if you have a job in which you sit and work, unbothered by others for long stretches of time. When your mouth isn’t active, saliva production drops. People tend to take more small sips of water when they are regularly talking and interacting with others. Long periods of closed-mouth work do not encourage saliva production.
The worst offenders:
- Orange juice
- Red and white wine
Sugary and Starchy Foods
These are harmful for a different reason. They feed your ever-present mouth bacteria. Some bacteria in the body are helpful, such as those that aid digestion, but the bacteria in the mouth contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. How? When they feed, they create acidic excretions that demineralize tooth enamel and destroy gum tissue. The more sugary or starchy plaque on your teeth, the more acidic “poop” they make. An abundant food source also encourages them to multiply. Think on that for a moment.
The worst offenders:
- Potato-based snacks (crisps, pringles)
- White bread
- Corn-based snacks (cheetos)
- Dried fruit
Hard and Crunchy Snacks
Since we’re discussing foods that pose a danger to your oral health, it’s worth reiterating that not all damage is caused by decay. There are a number of foods that cause structural damage, especially when they are a regular staple in your diet. For example, almonds have marvelous health benefits, but eating them whole can cause micro-fractures in your teeth. The wedge shape of the almond nut is similar to a wedge used to split wood—it can cause tiny cracks in the surface of your enamel, which can worsen, lead to painful temperature sensitivity, and open the door to bacterial decay. Ice is another dangerous “food,” as it can initiate small cracks in the enamel and shred the gum tissue.
- Seeds in the shell (sunflower, pumpkin)
- Hard candies
Know Your Enemies, Mitigate the Damage
Now, we’re not going to tell you that you should never eat your favorite gummies or crackers again. That would be unrealistic and silly. But we would like to help you acquire some strategies to mitigate the potential damage those bad-for-you foods can cause. Being aware of what those harmful foods and drinks do may remind you to change how you consume them.
Here are a few tips that can help you indulge in your favorite “dangerous” foods and drinks without as much risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease.
- Don’t let harmful foods be the last thing you eat. Drinking water or higher pH foods (such as milk, cheese, and non-dairy milks) after acidic ones can help bring down the acidity levels. Adding milk to coffee can have a similar effect
- Add more teeth-cleaning foods to your diet. You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale that eating an apple is almost as good as brushing your teeth. It’s actually true, despite the naturally occurring sugars present in fruit. The texture of a crisp apple, celery, pear, or raw cauliflower and broccoli can scrub away the starchy and sugary residues that create plaque and feed bacteria. They make quite a case for eating your salad or vegetables after your dessert!
- Drink “bad” drinks with a straw. Using a straw can reduce the amount of contact your teeth have with sodas and other acidic drinks. Many who are conscious of teeth stains are already aware of this trick. Paper straws are easy to order online for hot drinks, as you don’t want to expose plastic straws to heat. If you’d never be caught dead drinking wine with a straw…
- Eat cheese before you take wine. The dairy content will reduce incoming acidity, and the waxy texture of cheeses can form a thin protective barrier around your teeth.
- Brush or chew gum after “bad” foods. When you really have to indulge with a bag of crisps or Cadbury bar, for example, don’t let the residue sit on your teeth. If carrying a toothbrush for day-time brushing is more than you can handle, chew sugarless gum to help clean away the residue. The act of chewing can remove food particles, and it also stimulates saliva production. Many people already have a habit of chewing minty gum or taking a breath mint after lunch—if you are in this category, switch over to sugarless gum and do it after mouth-unhealthy snacks any time of the day.
Water: Think in Terms of Rinsing Your Mouth
Most have us have caught on to the health benefit of being well-hydrated and keep water on hand wherever we go. Drinking water regularly is good for the body and the mouth. If you think of taking a drink and rinsing your mouth after eating foods that tend to stick, this sort of intentional sipping can have a more profound effect than taking big swigs only when you are thirsty.
Bonus: Add Green Tea to Your Diet
Since we’re talking about foods’ and beverages’ effect on the health of your teeth and gums, we can’t not mention the benefits of green tea! There have been lots of scientific studies in recent years that give evidence that green tea can do some amazing things for your whole mouth. It inhibits bacteria, has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gums, and can even reverse precursors of oral cancers. It is filled with polyphenols and antioxidants that protect your body from damage on the cellular level. The only possible negative is its caffeine content, which is far lower than that of coffee. Brew yourself some strong green tea and drink it daily, hot or cold. Your mouth will thank you!
Want to Learn More About Your Teeth? Contact Us for An Appointment
To learn more about your oral health and get a routine check-up, contact Docklands Dental Studio today. Call our office at (03)9021 9487 or schedule an appointment through our website.
Docklands Dental Studio is conveniently located in the Victoria Harbour Precinct in Docklands, Melbourne. It is easy to get to us from Southbank via cars (through the city or M1, then Wurundjeri Way) or by foot (a 20-minute walk).
Also published on Medium.