Chew on this dental health nugget — for better or worse, your diet affects the integrity of your teeth. Certain foods have been proven to be a factor in tooth decay, tooth staining, gum disease, and other dental health issues.

While you’ve probably heard that candy and sugar are bad for your teeth, there’s so much more to it than that! Here’s what you need to know.

Sugar leads to decay, cavities, and gum disease

Most of us grew up understanding that too much of a sweet tooth could be problematic for your teeth. And this is true! Studies have shown the direct relationship between eating excessive sugar and the risk of tooth decay and cavities. 

However, not everyone understands why sugar is bad for your teeth.

When you eat sugar-filled foods or sip on a sweet beverage, sugar saturates your mouth and fuels bacteria to produce acid in your mouth. This acid removes important minerals from your tooth enamel and erodes your teeth. Over time, enamel loss causes cavities and even exposes the inner layer of your tooth, resulting in sensitivity and pain.

The scary part? These “acid attacks” last for around 20 minutes. Every time you munch down on another piece of candy or take a sip of soda, the acid damage begins all over again.

Acidic foods are just as bad

As you can imagine, highly acidic foods will cause the same problem as sugary foods, just faster. Foods like oranges, lemons, coffee, and pickled foods are very efficient at weakening tooth enamel and causing erosion.

Since acidic foods soften your enamel, avoid brushing your teeth right after eating something highly acidic. Instead, we recommend swishing your mouth with water and waiting at least 20 minutes before brushing.

You can also try combining it with a food low in acidity to help stabilize the pH balance in your mouth. Some good foods that can help neutralize acidity include nuts, cheese, oatmeal, bananas, apples, eggs, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish and meat are also good.

Starchy carbs are not a friend to your teeth

White bread, donuts, pasta, and potato chips — all the things we love, right? Unfortunately, your teeth don’t feel the same. The problem with starchy foods is that they easily become stuck in your teeth. The longer this sticky, sugary starch is stuck in your teeth, the higher chances you’ll develop cavities and decay.

Children are especially susceptible to the negative dental health effects of starchy foods. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reports that starchy foods are worse for children’s teeth than sugar!

Don’t worry. No dentist will tell you to stop eating bread or all the other yummy carbs you love. However, we do recommend that you keep a balanced diet top of mind. And after a starchy meal, rinse your mouth and brush your teeth to make sure there aren’t any leftovers hanging out for long periods of time.

Pigmented foods cause staining

Stained teeth don’t mean unhealthy teeth, but most people still prefer a while smile over a yellow or splotchy one. Unfortunately, it’s all your favorite drinks and foods that can cause your smile to fade. 

Foods that stain your teeth:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Red wine
  • Beets
  • Tomato sauce
  • Sports drinks
  • Dark soda

Drinking or eating these items occasionally won’t automatically stain your teeth. It’s the repetitive nature of consuming these items that will, over time, start to darken your teeth.

Rinsing your mouth and regular brushing and flossing will help minimize the effects of these foods. However, keep in mind that teeth staining is quite normal and can also be the result of the medications you take or your genetics.

A professional teeth whitening treatment is a great solution for keeping your teeth sparkling.

Snacking does the most damage

The worst culprit of them all is actually not the foods themselves, but how often you eat them. We tell all our patients that frequent snacking throughout the day is the worst thing you can do for your teeth. Here’s why.

As you’re eating, bits of food will get caught between your teeth and coat their surfaces. Left to sit there for even just a short period of time, the acidity and sugar in these particles will go to town on your enamel. 

Your saliva is a natural protector of your enamel. Yep, that’s right, your spit clears away food particles and buffers any acid from your teeth. This is a process known as remineralization. 

However, when you’re snacking all day long, your saliva doesn’t have time to keep up with its job. Your mouth will be in a constant state of battle — and the acid and sugar will win! You’ll be left with a high level of acidity in your mouth for a long period of time, resulting in tooth decay and cavities.

Antioxidant-rich foods help fight gum disease and decay

You know to rinse your mouth with water after eating, practice good brushing and flossing habits, get your regular dental cleanings and exams, and avoid constant snacking. But there’s one more really great dental diet tip we have to share — eat the rainbow!

Colorful foods that are rich in antioxidants not only strengthen the cells that help you fight gum disease, they can also help reduce your risk of decay and cavities

Brightly colored vegetables and fruits are a great source of antioxidants. We recommend incorporating these “superfoods” into your diet:

  • Spinach
  • Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries
  • Pecans
  • Artichoke
  • Dark chocolate
  • Kidney beans
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cabbage

A balanced diet is good for your teeth

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: a balanced, nutrition-rich diet is the best thing you can do for your health and your teeth.

Here’s a recap of the foods you should be careful about as well as a few additional nutrients you should aim to incorporate in your diet.

Avoid too many foods that are:

  • High acidic 
  • Sugary
  • Sticky and chewy
  • Starchy

Important nutrients your teeth loves:

  • Antioxidants
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Vitamins A, B, C, D
  • Fiber
  • Omega-3 

What other dental health questions do you have?

At Ellicott City Smile Care, we love helping our patients understand how to incorporate good dental health habits into every area of their life — including their diet.

Contact us with your dental health questions and let us know how we can help.