Nutrition impacts the health of your teeth in many important ways. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep your pearly-whites free from decay, shared by Dr. Andrew Koenigsberg, a dentist in New York City.
Avoid Sugar and Acid
Sugar and especially refined sugar is digested by the bacterial plaque on teeth to form acid. The smallest amount of sugar, (think a Tic Tac or a small amount of sugar in coffee), creates an acidic environment in the mouth for a couple of hours. This acidic environment softens teeth and makes them susceptible to decay. Acidic drinks and foods, including fruit, also create an acidic environment, making teeth susceptible to erosion, abrasion, and weakening (attrition), as well as decay.
“So there are some foods that we all know that are acidic: lemons, limes, oranges. And what I’ve seen people think is ‘the minute I eat them, let me go and brush my teeth and try to remove it,’ which is absolutely the worst thing they can do,” said Sharon Richter, a registered dietitian, in an interview on Floss Talk, a program hosted by Dr. Koenigsberg, a New York City dentist and owner of Gallery 57 Dental.
Brushing immediately after eating an acidic food is ill advised, according to Richter, because the acid would be forced into the teeth by the brushing action. It is ideal to wait for two hours after having an acidic food to allow saliva to neutralize the acids in one’s mouth.
Be Careful With Drinks
Many common drinks such as carbonated beverages and sports drinks can be highly acidic and can cause teeth to erode. In general, coffee and tea are less acidic and while they may stain teeth, will not cause erosion. Of course, adding lemon, one of the most acidic fruits, can change that. Many of these beverages also contain sugar making them even more cariogenic (able to cause cavities).
Eat Meals Not Snacks
If sugary and acidic foods and drinks are going to be consumed, it is best to do so with meals and then allow the saliva to neutralize the acid over the next couple of hours. If not challenged by new acid, saliva can reverse the effects of acid. This is challenging for many people who snack frequently as even “healthy” snacks often contain sugar. Nuts and many vegetables are a good choice as they have minimal sugar and are not acidic.
Best Time to Brush
It is better not to brush immediately after eating and drinking as the tooth is softest and the most susceptible to abrasion when exposed to acid. Of course, excellent brushing and flossing reduce the amount of plaque that is available to convert sugar into acid so effective oral hygiene is important. The ideal time to thoroughly remove plaque is after eating and drinking is done for the day and before going to sleep when the saliva slows down.
Should I Take Supplements to Strengthen My Teeth?
There are some common misconceptions surrounding the benefits of certain foods, vitamins and supplements in terms of their impact on tooth and gum health.
Calcium, while important for children whose teeth are forming, does not play a large role in the dental health of adults whose teeth are already formed. Even osteoporosis has minimal impact on the bones that hold the teeth in place (alveolar bones).
Proper, balanced nutrition is important for healthy gums and saliva; however, there is little evidence for specific dietary additions.
People suffering from “dry mouth,” a common side effect of many medications, should consult with a dentist and/or nutritionist to come up with a plan to keep the mouth moist without creating an acidic environment. Unfortunately, many people with dry mouth use tart, sugary lozenges to stimulate the saliva, which can lead to extensive decay.