Previously, we talked about some of the foods that are best for your dental health, so it’s only fair we spend some time talking about the bad stuff.
Yes, yes, we know: sugar is the devil! But understanding why is important, and ultimately, some of the worse culprits may just surprise you.
Sugars, all kinds of sugars, are food. Bacteria eat it, ferment it, and release acid. This is how breads and liquors are made, and also why dentists exist. The acid byproduct of the fermentation that occurs in your mouth wears away at your enamel, the hard, protective layer coating your teeth. The holes formed are cavities.
Your body has various natural defenses to combat this process, not the least of which is saliva, which washes away and digest carbohydrates, reinforces enamel, prevents the growth of bacteria and balances the pH levels in your mouth. But saliva never evolved to deal with things like high-fructose corn syrup, and that, again, is why dentists exist.
First let’s deal with the easy stuff.
Soda is essentially the worst thing you can possibly consume in terms of your oral health. Not only are the sugars highly processed, and therefore easy for bacteria to digest, but the liquid itself is highly acidic, enhancing the impact of any acid produced by the bacteria. If you have a Coke with a meal, or drink it all at once and then rinse with water, it’s not the end of the world. But get in the habit of casually drinking soda over extended periods, and you are dunking your teeth in a swimming pool of acid and acid accelerant.
Hard candy is bad for pretty much the same reasons. Highly sugary with highly processed sugars, a hard candy stays in your mouth for extended periods of time while the bacteria stuff themselves silly. Any candy consumed slowly, progressively will have the same effect.
The pattern here is that simple sugars that remain in the mouth will be processed quicker and longer. That’s easy enough to understand, but sugars come in many forms, and not all are sweet.
Crackers, for example, aren’t typically sweet. Neither are chips, nor Goldfish. And yet, just about any processed snack carries the same dangers as soda or candy. Crackers and especially Goldfish get worked into a sort of paste that lingers in your mouth long after you’ve finished chewing and works its way between the teeth, where saliva isn’t effective. The carbohydrates are as easy for the bacteria to digest as caramel or sweetened chocolate, and people tend to snack on them over longer periods of time.
The same is true of starches like white bread, which aren’t thought of as being particularly menacing to teeth, but are, according to the basic rules we’ve established.
Dried fruit are another seemingly innocent danger. The drying process serves much the same function as processing in the case of crackers, simplifying the sugars and making them easier for the bacteria to digest. Then the fruit, stickier in its dried form, sticks to teeth and between teeth. Thus, something that your mother would otherwise be force-feeding you because it’s healthy becomes a cavity vehicle not dramatically better than candy.
Citrus fruits are particularly bad, because they are highly acidic. Orange juice, for example, is higher in sugar than the orangest themselves and, because of its sugar content, is comparable to soda, when drank by itself.
Brush your teeth, floss, drink lots of water and chew that gum, and you can diminish the risk of tooth decay, even if you like the occasional softdrink or bag of potato chips. But be aware, the bacteria are out there, and you’re probably doing more to feed them than you think.