What you eat and drink can have a big impact on the health of your mouth.
The two things to look out for in your food and drink are sugar and acid. These have the potential to cause damage to your teeth.
Sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produces harmful acids. This is the cause of tooth decay.
Acidic foods and drinks can be just as harmful. The acid ‘erodes’ or dissolves the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly.
A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and cause bad breath.
What foods can cause tooth decay?
All sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms. Usually ingredients ending in ‘ose’ are sugars, for example: sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can all damage your teeth.
Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping.
When you are reading the labels remember that ‘no added sugar’ does not necessarily mean that the product is sugar free. It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above, or the sugars may be listed as ‘carbohydrates’.
Can food and drink cause erosion?
Acidic food and drinks can cause dental erosion – the gradual dissolving of the tooth enamel.
The lower the pH number, the more acidic the product.
Anything with a pH value lower than 5.5 may cause erosion. ‘Alkalis’ have a high pH number and cancel out the acid effects of sugars. pH 7 is the middle figure between acid and alkali.
Mineral water (still) pH 7.6
Milk pH 6.9
Cheddar cheese pH 5.9
Lager pH 4.4
Orange juice pH 3.8
Grapefruit pH 3.3
Pickles pH 3.2
Cola pH 2.5
Red wine pH 2.5
Vinegar pH 2.0
Can I eat snacks?
It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat 3 meals a day instead of having 7 to 10 snacks.
If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth. However, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount. Try not to have a lot of dried fruit as it is high in sugar.
Savoury snacks are better, such as; cheese, raw vegetables, nuts, breadsticks.
What should I drink?
Still water and milk are the healthiest drinks for teeth.
Diluted sugar-free fruit drinks are the safest alternative to water and milk. If you make these, be sure that the drink is diluted 1-part fruit drink to 10-parts water.
Fizzy drinks can increase the risk of dental problems. The sugar can cause decay and the acid in both normal and diet drinks can dissolve the enamel on the teeth. The risk is higher when you have these drinks between meals.
If you drink fruit juices keep them to meal times.
Should I brush my teeth after every meal?
It is important that you brush last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Eating and drinking foods containing sugar and acids naturally weakens the enamel on your teeth. Brushing straight afterwards can cause tiny particles of enamel to be brushed away. It is best not to brush your teeth until at least one hour after eating.
Does chewing gum help?
Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking.
It has been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore may damage your teeth.