Tooth decay occurs when the sugary, starchy foods you eat come into contact with your teeth. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on foods and drinks like sodas, candies and potato chips. As the presence of sugary substances and carbohydrates increases, so does the harmful acidity in the mouth. When these acids attack the teeth repeatedly, the tooth’s hard enamel begins to break down and cavities form.
The good news is, it’s easy to prevent cavities caused by your diet. Brush twice daily and floss to remove the sticky bacteria buildup on your teeth. You should also visit your dentist twice a year for regular checkups. Finally, since your oral health is directly linked to good nutrition, understanding how your diet affects your teeth is key to fighting decay.
Although all foods can cause cavities without proper dental hygiene, some foods pose greater risks than others. Here are the most common cavity-causing foods and why you should avoid them.
5 Foods that Cause Cavities
- Sugary Foods
- Starchy Foods and Refined Carbs
- Soda and Sports Drinks
- Citric Fruits
- Sticky Candies and Foods
There is a long list of foods high in sugar that can contribute to tooth decay, including candy, cake, soft drinks and cookies. The bacteria in your mouth feed off these foods, and then coat your teeth in damaging acids. Hard candy is one of the worst offenders as its sugars not only cling to teeth, but also linger in the mouth for a long time as the candy dissolves. As a general rule, pay attention to food labels, and watch for added sugars.
Many of us regularly enjoy starchy foods, like potato chips, pastas, fried foods and soft white breads, but they may be doing more damage to our teeth than we realize. Foods high in carbohydrates are easily trapped between teeth, and once stuck, these simple carbs are quickly converted to sugar in the mouth, which make up plaque. When you do eat foods high in carbohydrates, make sure you brush your teeth directly afterward to prevent acid buildup.
Besides being loaded with sugar, most soda pop and sports drinks are highly acidic and erode tooth enamel. If you must indulge in a soft drink or follow a workout with a sports beverage, take steps to minimize damage. Use a straw to deposit the sugar away from your teeth, and swish your mouth with water after drinking it to remove harmful residue.
Citric fruits, like lemons and oranges, are highly acidic and can dissolve enamel over time. To avoid dental erosion, avoid eating these fruits alone, and flush your mouth with water directly after eating it to neutralize the acidity levels. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing teeth, as brushing too soon after eating citric fruits can further irritate and erode the enamel of your teeth.
Chewy foods are especially harmful as they cling onto and in between teeth. That means sticky candies, such as toffee and even dried fruit should be avoided when possible. Sticky foods not only damage your enamel, but they can also pull out fillings and crowns.
Mouth-healthy eating habits
Preventing cavities does not mean you have to stop eating these foods altogether. Combined with excellent oral hygiene, you can maintain a healthy, cavity-free smile and enjoy the foods you love when eaten in moderation. Additionally, here are a few things you can do to fight plaque caused by the foods you eat:
- Limit snacking between meals. How often you are eating is just as important as what you are eating. If you need a snack, choose nutritious foods, like fresh vegetables or a slice of cheese rather than chips or sweets.
- Drink more water. Water helps flush out food and debris that cause plaque, and when fluoridated can help fight decay.
- Commit to a healthy, balanced diet. Aim to eat a variety of nutritious foods including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and lean sources of protein.
- Eat sugary, starchy foods with meals. To minimize the amount of exposure your teeth have to harmful foods, wait to eat foods high in sugars, carbs and acids at meal times. Your mouth releases more saliva during meals, which helps rinse away food particles that lead to acid attacks on teeth.
- Practice good oral hygiene. Daily brushing and flossing combined with regular visits to your dentist will help keep tooth decay at bay. Clean teeth thoroughly and rinse well to prevent food from sticking to your teeth after a meal or snack.
The foods you choose to eat will have a direct effect not only on the health of your teeth, but also on the health of your entire body. Luckily, you can stop cavities from forming by eating certain foods in moderation and practicing excellent oral hygiene.
Author Darla Scheidt works at Grove Dental Associates as the Marketing Director. Grove Dental is a multi-specialty dental group with dentists that have been in practice for over 40 years. These dentists are focused on the cutting edge of dentistry to better serve patients.