Eight Things to Cut from Your Diet “Right Now” for Healthier Teeth

Anyone who’s ever envied a celebrity’s white, healthy smile knows keeping your teeth looking great can sometimes be a challenge. But, did you realize the health of your mouth can tell your dentist and doctor a lot about your overall physical health? Poor dental hygiene puts you at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, frequent respiratory infections and complications from diabetes.

Gum diseases such as gingivitis damage the gums, leading to soft, bleeding, sore gums. If left untreated, this can cause advanced periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss as it loosens the surrounding tissue holding the teeth in place. It also allows dangerous bacteria to enter the bloodstream, leading to disease and in rare cases, death. 

The best way to ensure your teeth stay healthy is to brush after meals, floss daily and see your dentist regularly. But we’re not always near a toothbrush after a meal. Fortunately, if we avoid eating the wrong foods, we can significantly improve our overall oral health. Here are some foods you should avoid to maximize your dental health.

Sticky Candy and Sweets

Most kids learn as early as their fourth or fifth Halloween that candy is bad for your teeth. But few people lose their sweet tooth as they get older. If you must indulge in sweets, experts surprisingly enough recommend sticking to chocolate because it dissolves quickly in your mouth. Sticky candies, such as hardcandy, suckers, caramels and taffy, stick to the teeth for a much longer period. Eating sticky candy is akin to laying out a veritable smorgasbord for the bacteria in your mouth.

If life without Jolly Ranchers or saltwater taffy sounds too high of a burden to bear, be smart about consuming them. Make sure you can brush your teeth after eating these types of candies. If that means keeping a toothbrush at work, so be it—it even gives you a handy excuse to take a bathroom break.

If, like most, you’re happiest with a Hershey bar, try to opt for dark chocolate. In addition to saving your teeth, you can provide your body with beneficial antioxidants.

Sugary Sodas

Many colas provide the equivalent of 39 grams of sugar in each can, which doesn’t sound that bad until you realize that’s like downing nine teaspoons of pure sugar. Ew. Also, because the sugar in soda is the simplest kind for bacteria to digest, those pesky germs can quickly get right down to the business of tooth decay.

If you must have a cola, stick to the diet variety for optimum tooth health. And don’t forget the sodas in your favorite happy hour cocktail! If possible, ask the bartender to make your drink with diet.

Simple Sugars

You should eliminate any foods containing simple sugars from your diet if you want to keep your teeth—and your waistline—happy. And, it pays to be alert, because many of the foods we wouldn’t think of as being high in sugar, such as crackers or canned pasta sauce, often contain as much as or even more sugar than a candy bar. Keeping your Wonder Bread consumption to a bare minimum does more than protect your teeth. It also lowers your risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Popcorn

What could be so bad about popcorn? Anyone who’s ever chowed down on a big, buttery bucket of love at the movies knows the husks can get caught in your teeth. If you don’t take care to remove these completely, they can form an abscess. Add that to the fact that popcorn also generates tooth-decaying lactic acid, and it’s best to save that bucket for an occasional treat, not a weekly movie date.

Dried Fruits

All fruit is healthy for you, right? Well, yes and no. When grapes dry into raisins, the sugars in them break down to their most easily digestible form. Remember that bit about simple sugars? Drying any fruit produces large amounts of simple sugar. Dried fruit also has a sticky texture,meaning all that sugar ends up glued to your teeth for all those bacteria to dine upon until you brush and floss next.

Also, some dried fruits are tough to chew. That can easily lead to lost and broken teeth, especially in individuals who already suffer from periodontal disease.

Citrus Fruits

While it’s true fruits such as lemons and limes have comparatively little sugar when compared to other fruits, they pose a unique problem. The high citrus acid content in these fruits erodes the enamel on your teeth. The less enamel you have, the more likely you are to get a cavity. So brush after, not before, your morning glass of orange juice, and leave the grapefruit diet back in the ’80s where it belongs.

Coffee

Who on earth could ever survive without their morning cup of joe? But, hitting your neighborhood Starbucks daily can spell disaster for your teeth. Many people worry, with good reason, that coffee will stain their teeth. Tooth enamel contains cracks and crevices where pigment from coffee and even tea can work their way inside, leaving a mark.While stained teeth are unsightly and drive many of us into a relationship with tooth-whitening strips, things get even worse if you like cream, sugar or the latest 400-calorie frappe. The culprit, once more, is the sugar these leave behind, which can lead to cavities.

Red Wine

Similar to coffee, red wine can leave unsightly stains on your pearly whites. Consuming alcohol can also lead to excessive giving into food cravings or failing to brush your teeth before tumbling into bed. One additional note: While most whitening strips are safe to use, avoid those with chlorine dioxide, as this can damage tooth enamel.

While no one insists you ban these foods forever from your diet to keep your sparkling smile, exercising moderation and practicing good oral hygiene products is crucial. By keeping consumption of these foods minimal, you’ll maximize your chances of maintaining good oral health.

Photo by Ivana Cajina

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Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is an online journalist from Pennsylvania. She enjoys writing about women's issues, career advice, and sociopolitical change. If you enjoy her writing, you can visit her at OnlySlightlyBiased.com.