Candy. Red wine. Coffee. Everyone knows those are no-nos when it comes to keeping your teeth healthy and white.
But they’re not the only culprits that can wreak havoc in your mouth.
Here are five surprising foods and drinks that can cause everything from stains to excess plaque to damaged teeth and gums.
White wine. Don’t let its color fool you. Chardonnay, pinot grigio, and other white wines are highly acidic, and that acid can slowly erode your teeth’s hard outer shell (enamel), leaving it more prone to staining from other foods and sensitivity to pain, says David Genet, DMD, a periodontist in Aventura, FL.
Don’t want to give up your nightly glass? “Pair it with cheese, which can help minimize the damage caused by the acid,” he says.
Raisins. While dried fruits might be kinder to your waistline than candy, they can be just as bad for your teeth. The reason? Fruits are full of fructose, a form of sugar, says Justin Sycamore, DDS, a dentist in Thousand Oaks, CA.
When fruit is dried, the concentrated sugar becomes sticky, adhering to your mouth and doing nearly as much tooth decay damage as candy.
A great snack alternative? “Nuts,” Sycamore says. “They have almost no sugar, they’re full of protein, and they will make you feel fuller longer.”
Sugar-free drinks and candy. If you think you’re doing your teeth a favor by swapping your regular soda or sports drink for diet or sugar-free, think again.
A recent study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found that some sugar-free drinks and candy can cause just as much tooth decay as sugar-filled ones. The reason? They have acidic additives that erode tooth enamel as much as sugar does.
Potato chips. They may satisfy a salty craving, but this crunchy snack can cause a lot of problems in your mouth, Sycamore says.
“When you chew chips, they break into really small pieces that can be lodged and compacted into the grooves and crevices of the teeth,” he says. Also, “they’re simple carbohydrates, which are broken down by the enzymes in saliva to simple sugars, making them nearly as bad as candy for your teeth.”
Ice. Lots of people like to crunch on it, and it seems like a harmless snack — it keeps you cool and hydrated and has no calories. But chewing ice isn’t harmless, Sycamore says. The habit puts a lot of stress on your teeth, causing wear — and maybe even a fracture.
“A good alternative is to simply drink water,” he says. If you need a chewing fix, nosh on air-popped popcorn for a low-calorie snack.
How to Help Your Smile
It’s best to avoid foods and drinks that can damage your teeth. But if you’ve just got to have your favorites, minimize the damage with these tips.
Don’t nurse drinks. The longer sugary or acidic ones are in contact with your teeth, the more damage they cause, Genet says.
Go for sugarless gum. “Chewing gum not only helps remove some of the acid and sugars,” he says, “it produces saliva, which acts to help protect the enamel on your teeth.”
A man and his wife walked into a dentist’s office.
The man said to the
dentist, “Doc, I’m in one heck of a hurry. I have two buddies sitting out
in my car waiting for us to go play golf, so forget About the anesthetic, I
don’t have time for the gums to get numb.
I just want you to pull the tooth, and be done with it! We have a 10:00 AM
tee time at the best golf course in town and it’s 9:30 already
I don’t have time to wait for the anesthetic to work!’
The dentist thought to himself, “My goodness, this is surely a very brave
man asking to have his tooth pulled without using anything to kill the pain.”
So the dentist asks him, “Which tooth is it sir?”
The man turned to his wife and said, “Open your mouth Honey, and show him.
In recent months, various news agencies,1 social media sites and blogs have reported about the practice of “oil pulling”
(swishing oil in the mouth) and its potential benefits on oral and general health. Websites that support natural therapies are also fanning hope—and strong emotions—about oil pulling procedures, with proponents claiming it enhances oral health, whitens teeth, and improves overall health and well-being. This Science in the News provides a brief overview on the practice, health claims associated with oil pulling, and information on the lack of science to support use of this technique for any oral or general health benefit.
Based on the lack of currently available evidence, oil pulling is not recommended as a supplementary oral hygiene practice, and certainly not as a replacement for standard, time-tested oral health behaviors and modalities. The ADA recommends that patients follow a standard oral hygiene regimen that includes twice-daily toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner, using ADA-Accepted products. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between teeth help prevent cavities and keep gums healthy.
If individuals need more help to reduce gingivitis, they can add an ADA-Accepted mouthrinse shown to reduce plaque and gingivitis to their oral hygiene regimen. Several Listerine antiseptic mouthrinses carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance because they have been shown, through laboratory and clinical studies, to help reduce plaque and gingivitis. Listerine contains four essential oils (thymol, eucalyptol, methyl salicylate and menthol) as its antiplaque and antigingivitis active ingredient combination. Unlike the oils used in oil pulling, these essential oils are present in small amounts in an aqueous solution that is intended to be swished for 30 seconds, twice a day. The ADA Seal on over-the-counter oral care products is your assurance that those products have been evaluated by an independent group of experts, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, and that the product does what it claims to do.
As background, oil pulling is an ancient, traditional folk remedy that has been practiced for centuries in India and southern Asia as a holistic Ayurvedic technique.2 The practice of oil pulling involves placing a tablespoon of an edible oil (e.g., sesame, olive, sunflower, coconut) inside the mouth, and swishing or “pulling” the oil through the teeth and oral cavity for anywhere from 1-5 minutes to up to 20 minutes or longer.
Overall, as is true for many folk remedies, oil pulling therapy has insufficient peer-reviewed scientific studies to support its use for oral conditions. One study3 that compared oil pulling to the use of a chlorhexidine rinse found chlorhexidine to be much more effective in reducing S. mutans levels in plaque and saliva. However, the same study did not look at whether the S. mutans reduction provided the clinical benefit of reducing cavities.
Current reports on the potential health benefits of oil pulling have clear limitations. Existing studies are unreliable for a number of reasons, including the misinterpretation of results due to small sample size, confounders, absence of negative controls, lack of demographic information , and lack of blinding. To date, scientific studies have not provided the necessary clinical evidence to demonstrate that oil pulling reduces the incidence of dental caries, whitens teeth or improves oral health and well-being.
Recent articles in the media recommending oil pulling procedures generally have not described potential adverse health effects, but case reports of lipoid pneumonia4 associated with oil pulling or mineral oil aspiration5 have appeared in the literature. In addition, cases of diarrhea or upset stomach have been reported.
Various over-the-counter products and oral health practices may promise therapeutic effects when used, but only through rigorous scientific analysis can the dental profession be assured of a product or therapy’s effectiveness and safety. As emphasized in the ADA policy statement on unconventional dentistry,[t]he provision of dental care should be based on sound scientific principles and demonstrated clinical safety and effectiveness.
Most of us are aware that poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay,
gum disease and bad breath – but not brushing your teeth could also have consequences for more serious illnesses.
In this spotlight feature, to coincide with National Dental Hygiene Month, we peer beneath the plaque to investigate what other – perhaps unexpected – health conditions are affected by poor dental health.
In 2010, researchers from New York University (NYU) concluded that there is a link between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, after reviewing 20 years of data on the association.
However, the number of participants in the NYU study was fairly small. The researchers analyzed data from 152 subjects enrolled in the Glostrop Aging Study – a study looking at psychological, medical and oral health in Danish men and women. The study spanned a 20-year period and ended in 1984, when the subjects were all over the age of 70.
Comparing cognitive function at ages 50 and 70, the NYU team found that gum disease at the age of 70 was strongly associated with low scores for cognitive function.
Study participants were nine times more likely to have a score in the lower range of the cognitive test – the “digit symbol test” (DST) – if they had inflammation of the gums.
Although this study took into account potentially confounding factors like obesity, cigarette smoking and tooth loss unrelated to gum inflammation, there was still a strong association between low DST score and gum inflammation.
In 2013, UK-based researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) built on the findings of this study, by comparing brain samples from 10 living patients with Alzheimer’s with 10 brain samples from people who did not have the disease.
Analysis showed that a bacterium – Porphyromonas gingivalis – was present in the Alzheimer’s brain samples but not in the samples from the brains of people who did not have Alzheimer’s. What was interesting was that P. gingivalis is usually associated with chronic gum disease.
The team followed up this research in 2014 with a new mouse study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Medical News Today spoke to co-author Dr. Sim K. Singhrao regarding the findings.
Dr. Singhrao says that there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that two of the three gum disease-causing bacteria are capable of motion (or “motile”) and have been consistently found in brain tissue.
“These motile bacteria can leave the mouth and enter the brain via two main routes,” he explains. “They can use their movement capability to directly enter the brain. One of the paths taken is to crawl up the nerves that connect the brain and the roots of teeth. The other path is indirect entry into the brain via the blood circulation system.”
In a patient who has bleeding gums, says Dr. Singharo, the gum disease-causing bacteria will enter the blood stream every time they clean their mouth and even when they eat food.
“P. gingivalis is particularly interesting as it has found ways to hitch a lift from red blood cells when in the blood stream and instead of getting ‘off the red blood cell bus’ in the spleen, they choose to get off in the brain at an area where there are no immune checkpoints. From there, they spread to the brain at their will. In addition, in older individuals, the blood vessels tend to enlarge and become leaky.”
The published work confirmed P. gingivalis placed in the mouths of mice finds its way to the brain once gum disease becomes established first,” Dr. Singhrao concludes. “Furthermore, our hypothesis is strengthened by the recent results demonstrating that the chemicals released by the brain’s immune system in response to P. gingivalis reaching the brain ‘inadvertently’ damage functional neurons in the area of the brain related to memory.”
A research team from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, were the first to report strong evidence on a link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer, back in 2007.
The type of gum inflammation associated with pancreatic cancer in the study was periodontitis, which affects the tissue that support the teeth and can cause loss of bone around the base of the teeth.
The other main kind of gum disease – gingivitis; where the tissue around the teeth becomes inflamed – was not linked to increased cancer risk. However, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis if persistent. Gingivitis happens when bacteria in the plaque around the base of the teeth build up due to bad dental hygiene.
Examining data on gum disease from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which involved a cohort of more than 51,000 men and began collecting data in 1986, the Harvard researchers found that men with a history of gum disease had a 64% increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with men who had never had gum disease.
The greatest risk for pancreatic cancer among this group was in men with recent tooth loss. However, the study was unable to find links between other types of oral health problems – such as tooth decay – and pancreatic cancer.
The researchers suggest that there may be a link between high levels of carcinogenic compounds found in the mouths of people with gum disease and pancreatic cancer risk. They argue that these compounds – called nitrosamines – may react to the digestive chemicals in the gut in a way that creates an environment favorable to the development of pancreatic cancer.
However, a follow-up study from the team in 2012 was unable to prove whether the periodontitis bacteria are a cause or result of pancreatic cancer – the study could only prove that the two were linked.
“This is not an established risk factor,” admitted author Dominique Michaud. “But I feel more confident that something is going on. It’s something we need to understand better.”
Perhaps more well established is the association between dental hygiene and heart disease.
In 2008, MNT reported on research from joint teams at the University of Bristol in the UK and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, who found that people with bleeding gums from poor dental hygiene could be increasing their risk of heart disease.
The researchers found that heart disease risk increased because – in people who have bleeding gums – bacteria from the mouth is able to enter the bloodstream and stick to platelets, which can then form blood clots, interrupting the flow of blood to the heart and triggering a heart attack.
“The mouth is probably the dirtiest place in the human body,” said Dr. Steve Kerrigan from the Royal College of Surgeons, explaining that there are up to 700 different types of bacteria co-existing in our mouths.
Prof. Howard Jenkinson, from the University of Bristol, added:
“Cardiovascular disease is currently the biggest killer in the western world. Oral bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii and Streptococcus sanguinis are common infecting agents, and we now recognise that bacterial infections are an independent risk factor for heart diseases.”
The Bristol University researchers investigated how the bacteria interact with platelets by mimicking the pressure inside the blood vessels and the heart. Prof. Jenkinson’s team found that the bacteria use the platelets as a defense mechanism.
By clumping the platelets together, the bacteria are able to completely surround themselves. This platelet armor shields the bacteria from attack by immune cells and makes them less detectable to antibiotics.
Although some of the associations we have looked at in this spotlight feature are still under investigation, good dental hygiene remains important for lowering risk of a variety of conditions.
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) recommend that we should brush for 2 minutes, twice daily. The ADHA guidelines also stress the importance of flossing daily and rinsing with mouthwash. You can read the full recommendations on the ADHA website.
Written by David McNamee
Some foods are better for teeth than others. Some are downright toxic. General rules are that the more sticky,
the more acidic, and the higher the sugar content, the worse that food is for teeth.
How do acid and sugar affect my teeth?
The acid in food and drinks can eat away at your enamel – causing it to erode. As your enamel erodes, you will become prone to sensitivity, discoloration and most detrimentally, cavities. Foods and beverages may be low in acidity but high in sugar and can be just as damaging. The natural bacteria in our mouths will process the sugar and create acid.
What should I avoid?
Most candy and a lot of the things we drink are harmful. These include sports drinks, energy drinks, and soda, all high in sugar and acid. Even diet soda and fruit juice have enough acid to damage tooth enamel. Innocent sounding carbohydrates like bread can be broken down into sugars and fermented into the acids that causes decay if cleaning isn’t done frequently.
What else can I do?
Make sure to brush and floss regularly. You can brush 30 minutes after eating or drinking to avoid scrubbing away the acid-softened enamel. Drink lots of water so that your mouth stays moist and your saliva can neutralize the acid.
Go see your dentist for regular cleanings. You can also take this time to ask questions about any foods or drinks you are unsure about.
Two foods that are actually decay-inhibiting are cheese and pure chocolate (no caramel and candy coating please).
Have you seen charcoal products for teeth whitening all over Pinterest and Instagram?
People all over social media have touted activated charcoal as a natural teeth whitener.
Activated charcoal is a form of carbon with strong adsorption properties. The idea behind these posts is that charcoal will absorb any material on your teeth causing discoloration, leaving behind radiant, white teeth.
We all want to have a bright white smile. So, should you give activated charcoal a try? The short answer – no.
We don’t recommend these products for several reasons. Often, ‘natural’ or DIY methods of teeth whitening can cause more harm than good to your teeth. The activated charcoal treatments that have recently become popular have not been approved by the ADA. Few studies have been conducted on using activated charcoal in general. In fact, these products could be overly abrasive to teeth and wear away your existing enamel, leaving your teeth weaker and more yellow in appearance.
So what should I do to whiten my teeth?
The best way to keep your teeth white is to brush, floss and regularly see the dentist. If you are interested in teeth whitening, let Dr. Cruser know and he can review your options with you.
Traditional teeth whitening works by using a dental product with specific bleach to break stains into smaller spots, allowing them to be washed out of the microporosities of the teeth making them visibly whiter. Options include using whitening tooth paste, having a treatment at the dentist’s office or an at-home treatment. If you chose to use an over the counter whitening solution, make sure to look for a product approved by the ADA.
While know you have nothing to fear at our office, many people do experience anxiety at the dentist’s
office or are affected by dental phobia. If you’re apprehensive about visiting the dentist, here are few tips about how to make your appointment go as smoothly as possible:
Let us know beforehand about how you’re feeling.
It helps us prepare if we know that you’re feeling nervous about a procedure. We can work with you to create a strategy to minimize your discomfort so you can get the care you need.
Dress as comfortably as possible.
One of the first steps you can take is to wear clothes to make you feel the way you would like… comfortable and confident. Wearing the right clothes can help you feel more relaxed.
Once you’re here, work on your breathing. As hard as it may be to relax in the chair, rest your hands on your belly and try to take deep slow breaths. It will give you something to focus on and help keep you calm.
We’re happy to explain what we’re doing. Many people find that their anxiety stems from a feeling of lack of control. Understanding the procedure can help mitigate that feeling.
Bring a distraction
Listen to music or an audio book during your appointment. Come prepared with music or something to listen to on your phone or mp3 player.
There are many ways to stay calm while at the dentist. It’s a matter of what works best for you. If you do have serious issues with dental anxiety, you should consider consulting a psychiatric professional. Remember, we’re here to keep you happy healthy and we will do what we can to ensure that you have a positive experience at our office.