Visiting the dentist isn’t a favourite pastime for most of us. But taking care with what passes your lips might mean you can be spared some unpleasant – and often costly – interventions when your next dental trip comes around.
You might know there’s a dental sting with cakes and lollies, but did you realise chips, ice, curries, popcorn and wine can also cause havoc in your mouth?
Dr Peter Alldritt, chair of the Australian Dental Association’s oral health committee, shares 10 common food and drink items that many of us aren’t aware are potential troublemakers in the tooth department.
1. Diet soft drinks – They’re tempting for those wanting to sip on something sweet without the kilojoule hit of regular soft drinks. But while there’s no sugar to cause tooth decay, like regular soft drinks and even fruit juice, diet soft drinks still have high acid levels that can erode tooth enamel. This can lead to exposure of the inner tooth layer, causing pain and sensitivity, and it can also cause cavities. Brushing straight after drinking isn’t wise either as the acid can soften enamel, making it easier to brush away. If you must drink diet drinks, swish your mouth with water afterwards to wash the acid away. You could also sip them through a straw to minimise contact with your teeth.
2. Potato chips – They might start out crunchy but once chewed, they turn into a soft mess that can lodge and linger in the tiniest crevices on and between your teeth. What’s more, while we think of them as savoury, most chips are actually quite high in sugar Alldritt says, which means their tendency to stick around on your teeth is even more of a problem.
3. Ice – Do you get to the end of your ice-chilled drink and find those remaining ice cubes irresistible? Plenty of us do. But while sucking them is fine, biting them is not. Ice is so hard that biting it can easily chip off enamel or crack your teeth. If you can’t trust yourself to stop at sucking an ice cube, don’t take it into your mouth in the first place. Finish your drink and move it away from temptation.
4. Dried Fruit – Fruit is healthy and packed with vitamins and other nutrients. But suck the moisture out of it and you’re left with a sticky product made up of concentrated sugar entwined with bits of fibre that make it stick to the surface of your teeth. Also, some dried fruits, such as dried mangoes and craisins (dried cranberries), often have extra sugar added to boot. Eat dried fruit in moderation and brush well afterwards. But generally fresh fruit is a better choice.
5. Popcorn and corn on the cob – It’s made from popped corn kernels, so it can’t be too bad, right? Except when the popcorn is coated with coloured sugar dust or sticky toffee. Then it’s a “sugar bomb”, Alldritt says. Popcorn with no added sugar is dentally speaking, not a bad snack. That’s as long as you take care to floss out any bits that wedge between your teeth and don’t bite on any unpopped kernels, which can cause cracks and breaks in teeth. Biting into corn on the cob should also be approached with caution if you have crowns or large fillings on your front teeth, as the focused pressure may damage these. (You can always cut the kernels off the cob to eat them.)
6. Sports drinks – Sports drinks along with energy drinks are highly acidic and many are also high in sugar. An acid attack that can erode the enamel on your teeth generally lasts for around 20 minutes. Every time you take a sip of the drink, the acid damage begins all over again. Bear in mind too that unless you’re having a fairly long and intense workout, you probably don’t need the extra fuel and electrolytes a sports drink provides anyway.
7. Muesli bars – They look healthy with all those nuts, grains and oats. But the substance holding all that together into a bar is generally sugar, Alldritt says. The sugar makes every bite sticky, and it hangs around the grooves of your teeth a long time.
8. Wine – Wine – especially sparkling and white wine – contains erosive acid, which can soften the protective hard enamel on teeth. This acid can also leave teeth more vulnerable to staining, which can be a problem for those who enjoy red wine along with other heavily pigmented foods and drinks such as curries, coffee and tea. Alcohol, in general, causes dehydration, which means your mouth will have less of the saliva that protects your teeth from decay. It’s worth noting that heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral cancer.
9. Low-fat yoghurts – We tend to think of dairy foods as good for our teeth, but the low-fat varieties often contain a lot of added sugar. “The only way they can make yoghurt tasty with so much fat taken out of it is to bump up the sugar content,” Alldritt says. “And often the amount they add is outrageous. The result is a product that’s a disaster for teeth.” Some low-fat yoghurts have less sugar than others though, so check the labels. You could also consider choosing natural yoghurt and adding fresh fruit yourself for a bit of sweetness.
10. Bottled water – Bottled water is very popular. But when it comes to your teeth, the water that comes out of your tap is almost certainly a better choice. In fact, the Australian Dental Association says tap water should be the primary drink of choice for all of us. That’s because in most areas of Australia, tap water contains fluoride – a natural mineral that strengthens tooth enamel and protects against decay. Bottled water in comparison does not contain the amount of fluoride needed to protect your teeth. Choosing tap water will also save you a bundle as bottled costs around 2000 times more.