Dentists Say These Are the 10 Worst Foods for Your Teeth
Oral health doesn't stop after leaving the dentist's chair. Certain foods and dietary habits can derail our efforts to keep our smiles beautiful and, more importantly, healthy. While professionals can generally help our teeth become stronger with fillings and crowns, you can prevent any costly repairs by focusing on best oral care practices at home—this includes a balanced diet.
If you're noticing that your teeth are increasingly sensitive, you may want to think about what you're eating on a regular basis. Dr. LaQuia Walker Vinson, DDS, MPH, a pediatric dentist at Indiana University's Riley Children's Health, says plaque occurs when sugars found in foods cause bacteria in the mouth to release acids that can seriously wear down enamel. "Plaque bacteria doesn't discriminate on the kinds of sugar it interacts with—even if you're eating an organic item that contains natural sugars, it can still help develop acid that leads to enamel decay and overall sensitivity down the road," Vinson says. A loss of enamel can lead to cavities, which is the most common chronic disease for Americans between six and 19 years old. Left unchecked, cavities can develop into serious complications like tooth abscesses that require a trip to an oral surgeon.
And there are some dietary habits that could chip or crack even the strongest teeth, Vinson says. "Teeth are made for chewing through food—and not anything harder than food," she explains. “The structure of a tooth isn't made to sustain the force required to break things like ice apart." Unconscious chewing can be just as damaging as eating sugar and acidic items galore.
Thankfully, Vinson says you don't have to completely eliminate the following foods from your diet: "They're only problematic when it becomes a regular habit," she says. In addition to Vinson, we polled leading dentists around the country on the foods that can either chemically degrade your teeth, or physically cause damage when eaten regularly. Plus, the experts also shared advice on how to minimize any harm done when you do indulge in these items.
Citrus fruits are extremely nutritious and can provide you with many vitamins—but this fruit family's natural sugar count and acid content can wreak havoc on teeth if consumed in excess. The pH levels of grapefruits, in particular, is extremely low, meaning they're highly acidic and can corrode the surface of your teeth (and the enamel that protects that surface). When you're eating grapefruit, it's best to chew and swallow without delay, says Dr. Sharona Dayan, a Beverly Hills-based periodontist. "Fruit mulling can also lead to premature wear of the teeth," she says. Another one to watch out for: dried fruits, which contain even higher concentrates of sugar.
You may not eat lemon outright, but you may be known to squeeze this fruit's highly acidic juice into the beverages you drink every day. The acidic nature of lemon juice can lead to enamel erosion overall, says Vinson, which can result in cavities and allow the plaque inside your mouth to cause more damage than it normally would. If you must have a slice of lemon in your drink, make sure it's not a sugary one, as the combination of sugar and acid can cause substantial damage if consumed on a regular basis.
Many refined bread-based products, such as crackers and chips, contain carbohydrates that are eventually turned into sugars by an enzyme in saliva known as amylase, Dayan says. Eating crackers and bread in general isn't going to destroy your smile, but choosing varieties that are free of refined carbohydrates may serve you well later. "The best breads are whole grain, and tough breads like German varieties that need to be chewed a lot also helps to develop dentofacial muscles and more pronounced cheekbones," she says. Be sure to wash down these snacks with water, as they can also get stuck in the crevices of gums or on the roof of your mouth.
You've heard that red wine stains teeth due to tannins that can also make teeth sticky, but Vinson says you should be more concerned about the damage it does beneath the tooth's surface. Like grapefruit, wine has low pH levels due to the acid naturally found in the beverage, and the combination of acid and discoloring pigments means that wine lovers often notice an impact on their smile.
You don't have to give up your happy hour completely—just make sure you eat something with a higher pH level to counteract wine's acidity. "You should feel great about eating plenty of cheese alongside a glass of wine, because it's an effective combination to neutralize acidity in the mouth and on your teeth," Vinson says.
Soda and Carbonated Soft Drinks
Any dentist will tell you to skip the soda, even a diet version. That's because even sugar-free varieties can also lead to worn teeth if consumed regularly, since they contain acids of their own, says Dr. Nancy Rosen, DMD, a New York-based general and cosmetic dentist and Sensodyne spokesperson. "Drinks like soda, lemonade, and sports beverages are harmful because sipping them causes a constant sugar bath over the teeth, which promotes tooth decay. These drinks have acids in them, and these acids can weary away the enamel of the teeth."
All of the dentists agreed: drinking soda with a straw may help avoid exposure to the front row of teeth as long as you don't swish the liquid around your mouth. "You want to wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after consuming something acidic, because if you brush it right after, you will be brushing the acid into your teeth which can lead to more enamel wear," Rosen says.
In order to pickle something, you'll need to use vinegar, which contains acid, Vinson says. Previous research shows that pickles are the leading cause of tooth decay in teens in the United Kingdom—eating them more than once a day increased the odds of wear by around 85 percent. While Americans may not eat pickles as frequently, the research serves as a good reminder that anything pickled has likely been soaked in vinegar, which can act as a corrosive agent against your own teeth. Eat pickled items alongside items containing less acid, like eggs or cheese, Vinson says, and wash down your meal with water to alleviate the contact.
Peanuts and Almonds
The density of these snacks can cause problems for a tooth's exterior over time, and they're often known for splintering teeth or fracturing a tooth altogether, Rosen says. Like other foods with a tough exterior, nuts should be enjoyed in small amounts and chewed slowly and carefully—even if they don't chip a tooth in half, they can still create something known by professionals as "microcracks," says Vinson. If you choose to snack on harder foods, also be sure to bring them to room temperature; chewing a frozen peanut is exponentially more dangerous to any healthy tooth.
Many of Dayan's patients often are floored when they bite into a chilled baby carrot and feel their teeth break, but these otherwise healthy snacks are a prime example of a sneaky item that can cause damage for those struggling with dental health. "The firmness of these foods combined with the quick force of biting through them can cause chipping or fracturing of a tooth," Dayan says. "Generally, a tooth will be weakened either from grinding them, or exposure to acids that make them more susceptible to becoming fractured in a case like this."
It may seem like a harmless habit, but the teeth aren't made to chew through harder things than food—including ice. "Ice can lead to microcracks that form within the tooth, and these minute surface issues can populate and propagate into larger cracks, especially if you are constantly crunching ice—or anything that's equally as hard, including throat lozenges, and breath mints," Vinson says. "It's problematic when it becomes a habit, especially if you're doing it unconsciously."