The foundation for tooth decay prevention is daily brushing and flossing, along with semi-annual office cleanings and checkups. But what you eat is also important — your diet could be hurting your hygiene efforts.
So, how do your favorite foods fare in the war against tooth decay? Here are some common types and their relationship to this damaging disease.
Starches. Staples like rice, potatoes or bread when broken down by enzymes release glucose and other simple sugars that oral bacteria can consume to produce acid, the primary enemy of tooth enamel. While this raises their decay potential, though, it’s still lower than table sugar, unless the starchy food contains added sugar as in many breakfast cereals, biscuits or cakes. Less refined starches like whole grains, on the other hand, have other properties that can protect teeth.
Fruits and vegetables. Although fruit contains sugars, they don’t appear to increase decay risk when consumed fresh. In fact, eating fresh fruit instead of free sugar or sugar-added foods have been shown to reduce decay risk (dried fruits, on the other hand, increase risk because they release free sugars when dried). Vegetables are often fibrous, requiring more chewing that in turn stimulates saliva production for neutralizing acid in the mouth.
Acidic foods and beverages. Chronic mouth acidity softens enamel’s mineral content and causes it to eventually erode. Besides bacteria-produced acid, many foods and drinks (especially sodas, sports and energy drinks) contain high levels of acid. The effect is compounded when you sip beverages over long intervals rather than consume them all at once or during meals.
Dairy foods. Cheese, milk and other dairy products actually have properties that deter decay and strengthen teeth. They’re rich in calcium, which can be absorbed by the enamel and help stimulate saliva production. Milk contains the sugar lactose, which causes less acid production than other sugars, and is rich in nutrients like the aforementioned calcium, phosphorus and casein that help stop decay.
Our best advice: limit your intake of free sugars, sugar-added foods, and acidic foods and beverages, while increasing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products in your diet. Not only is this a good prescription for general nutrition, it will also help contribute to healthier, decay-free teeth.