Diet & Your Teeth

Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet is vital to achieving and maintaining good dental and overall health.  The foods and liquids we consume have a direct effect on the health of our teeth and gums.  As soon as food or drinks are placed in the mouth, the teeth and gums are instantly attacked by acids.  Sugary foods in particular react strongly with the bacteria found in plaque, and will stick to the teeth, eventually leading to dental decay.  These “acid attacks” can last for up to an hour after eating.  The saliva in your mouth will eventually clear the acid and bacteria away to help keep your mouth healthy.

There are a wide variety of foods and drinks that cause major erosion to the teeth, and some types of foods and beverages that we perceive as healthy actually contain enough acid to cause tooth erosion.  For exams, fruits such as bananas, grapefruit, blueberries, and cranberries are all acidic fruits.  When you buy food, read the labels on the food packaging.  The phrase “no added sugar” does not mean that there will not be sugar already contained in the food.

Fruit-Heavy Diets
Eating only raw fruit may seem like a healthy idea, but can actually cause serious dental problems.  Raw fruit alone does not provide the body with enough calcium and magnesium to maintain healthy teeth and bones.  Additionally, some fruits have high levels of acidity, and may contribute to tooth erosion and decay if consumed in excess.

Diets High in Salt
Salt helps the body to eliminate needed minerals, such as calcium and potassium.  A diet containing too much salt (sodium) can cause you to lose necessary calcium.  Be sure to balance your diet.

Starchy Foods
Foods high in starch may fuel dental problems, especially problems enhanced by high levels of blood sugar.  Bread, chips, and pasta are high in carbohydrates, which are then converted into sugar within your body.  However, starchy foods can also be high in nutrients, which is essential for healthy gums and teeth, so a moderate intake of starchy foods is recommended.  Make sure that these types of foods are consumed only in moderation, and that the food does not sit on the teeth and gums for long periods of time.  For example, drink water during and after your meal to rinse food away from the gums and teeth.

Foods and Bad Breath
Bad breath can occur when food gets stuck between your teeth and begins to erode.  This allows bacteria to work its way into your mouth, where it can cause problems like tooth decay and gum disease.  Bad breath can be easily eradicated through regular brushing and flossing, and by brushing the tongue.  Mouthwash may mask the problem, but it will not get rid of the plaque or treat the underlying source of your bad breath.

Can Food and Drinks Cause Tooth Erosion?
Acidic foods and beverages can cause decay and erosion.  Listed in this section you will find the “pH values” (acidity levels) for some common foods and drinks.  The lower the pH number, the more acidic the product.  Anything with a pH value lower than 5.5 may cause tooth decay.  Foods with a higher pH number, known as “alkaline foods and drinks” neutralize the effects of sugar.  Foods labeled with a pH of 7 fall in the middle of these two groups.

  • Still mineral water – pH 7.6
  • Milk – pH 6.9
  • Cheddar cheese – pH 5.9
  • Beer/Lager – pH 4.4
  • Orange juice – pH 3.8
  • Grapefruit – pH 3.3
  • Pickles – pH 3.2
  • Cola – pH 3.5
  • Red wine – pH 2.5
  • Vinegar – pH 2.0

Should I Brush My Teeth After Every Meal?
Brush your teeth twice a day, or after every meal, with a toothpaste containing fluoride. The best times to brush are before breakfast and before you go to bed. Eating and drinking weakens the enamel on your teeth, and brushing immediately after you eat can gradually wear away the enamel of your teeth. It is best to wait at least one hour after eating for the saliva in your mouth to neutralize the acid caused by eating. Brushing your teeth before bed is important because the natural cleansing system of your saliva slows down while you sleep, leaving you at greater risk of tooth decay.

Does Chewing Gum Help?
Chewing gum can help produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid after eating or drinking. It has been proven that sugar-free gum after meals can help prevent tooth decay. It is strongly recommended that you only use sugar-free gum.