The old saying goes “you are what you eat,” and nothing rings truer when it comes to your dental health. Your diet is directly connected to the health of your teeth and gums—good and bad! We already know the biggest culprit to poor oral health is sugar, but this cavity-causing substance is found in many foods. Coffee and wine also get a bad rap for their staining power, but did you know that alcohol and acid are bigger issues? Let’s take a look at some of the worst and best foods for your mouth that you may not know play a role in its state of health.

Heathy Foods with Hidden Dangers for Your Smile

Some of the biggest offenders may shock you, as they are considered to be healthy.

· Black Tea – a major player in the category of discoloration. Moderation!

· Grapefruit and lemons – “diet” staples, the acid in these fruits is hard on your teeth. A historic cure for scurvy, many don’t think about these fruits as offenders.

· Dried fruit – Double whammy. Concentrated sugar AND sticky.

· Sports drinks – sneaky sugar and high acid? There are better ways to rehydrate and get electrolytes after a hard workout. These can actually be worse for you than soda!

· Flavored water – this is a popular “diet” fad, especially adding lemon and other citrus fruit to water. Enjoyed quickly, it’s not so bad. Most people, however, choose to sip, which prolongs exposure. Using a straw can help keep the acid from damaging teeth.

· Vinegar shots and Kombucha – the health benefits are huge, but so are the acid levels. This is another substance to drink quickly instead of sipping and where a straw can be useful.

How Can Healthy Foods Be Bad for My Mouth?

The caution list can be broken down into three main categories: sugar, acids, and alcohol. Sugar is the most obvious. Candy (especially of the sticky variety) and soda are things our dentists have been telling us to stay away from for years! But sugar is sneaky and hides in a variety of common foods, such as bread and pasta. These are staples in a lot of our diets, and many people are unaware of the hidden dangers in store for our teeth and gums. Any sugar that makes contact with our teeth and sticks around (sometimes literally) is an invitation for harmful bacteria found in plaque to start causing damage. Acids can also be harmful, causing the protective enamel on our teeth to thin and break down over time, causing sensitivity and cavities. Acids are commonly found in soft drinks, but a diet high in tomatoes, pickled items, alcohol, and coffee can be just as bad. Alcohol packs a double punch, not only being acidic in nature, but also causing dry mouth. Saliva is the body’s natural acid neutralizer, so when it’s inhibited, your mouth breeds bacteria that causes bad breath and tooth decay. If you’re adding up all the drinks or food we’ve mentioned so far and are thinking “I don’t eat much of that, so I’m safe,” you may want to keep reading.

Some of My Favorite Foods Are Bad for My Teeth and Gums! Do I Have to Give Them Up?

So how can we balance or reverse the effects of these damage causing foods and drinks? We’re not telling you to put down that iced macchiato and go cold-turkey. Moderation is key. If you know you’ll be consuming food or drink that is sweet or acidic, balance it with something to counter the effects, like dairy, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish and lean meats contain low levels of acid and are rich in vitamins and minerals which actually promote oral health! Drinking plenty of water during and in-between meals is also important. It’s a little obvious, but water will rinse food particles away and prevent dry mouth. Check your drinking water to see if it has any added fluoride, which is a proven asset to cavity prevention. Community tap water, along with some bottled water, typically has low levels of fluoride. While it’s often a good idea to brush your teeth after a meal, doing so after consuming something acidic could actually make things worse! Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to prevent additional damage to your teeth and gums. If you’re out and about and unable to brush, chewing sugar-free gum after eating can promote saliva production to help clean your mouth in a pinch. And we know it’s hard to remember, but floss! This is the best way to remove plaque, which is the leading cause of bad breath and tooth decay! Regular visits to your dentist for cleanings will keep you up to date on the status of your oral health.

Yikes! Now Seems Like A Good Time to Schedule an Appointment, but Don’t be Nervous!

Do you have concerns or questions but walking into a dentist’s office gives you anxiety? Call us today and let us help you enjoy your dental experience. We offer a variety of services and the latest technology designed to give you a healthy mouth and a relaxing visit. That should give you something to smile about! Contact us via our website, or you can call either our University of Tennessee Medical Center Office at 865-305-9442 or the West Knoxville Office at 865-500-5700 to schedule an appointment today.