By Allie Firestone/Divine Caroline
My mom always told me that sugar would rot my teeth. But after a recent scolding by my dentist for brushing too hard (how else am I supposed to get all the sugar off?), I was inspired to look a little deeper into what’s really harmful to my teeth—and I learned that there’s a lot more than sugar to watch out for. From foods that encourage tooth decay to habits that wear away gums, there’s more to maintaining our smile than a simple brush and floss.
Crackers, Breadsticks, and Chips
Just what we needed—another reason to feel bread aisle-guilt. But unlike low-carb diets, there’s some real science behind this.
Not all digestion happens in the stomach—turns out, a lot of it actually goes down in between our teeth as we’re chewing. It starts with plaque, a sticky, whitish substance that blankets our teeth. When the snack of choice is a bag of chips, or something equally starchy—a cookie, cracker, cereal, even a banana—the bacteria that lives on our teeth starts breaking that plaque down, a process that creates very strong acids. (Foods broken down like this are often referred to as fermentable carbs.) The acids, in turn, can cause demineralization, or the dissolving of tooth enamel. Our mouths keep on producing acid as long as the fermentable carb is in contact with our teeth.
Dentists used to think that this was only a problem for the most sugary of foods, hence the fear tactics my mom used on me with those post-dessert brushing sessions. But advances in nutrition and dental science have shown that all types of sugar and starch, in liquid and solid form, lead to this kind of decay.
“Some studies have even shown the acid-producing potential of these types of foods is equal to what the mouth produces in response to obviously sugary solutions, like a cookie or hot chocolate,” says Karen Hastey, a former dental hygienist and oral surgery assistant.
Lemonade, Pineapples, and Oranges
Acidic foods and drinks also initiate a harmful chemical process in the mouth—one that softens tooth enamel and also leads to decay.