Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth

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A guide to the foods that stain and erode teeth—and those that can prevent or reverse the damage.

Eat for a healthy smile

Prevention is the best medicine for your smile. Although fillings, crowns, and professional whitening can make your teeth stronger and brighter, it’s better (and cheaper!) to avoid cavities and stains in the first place, by brushing, flossing, and—last but not least—eating right. As the following guide explains, the food we eat can have a big impact on our teeth.

Fortunately, foods like candy that don’t always play nice with our teeth are generally harmless in moderation. “It’s when we excessively use one thing that [it] can become a problem,” says Matthew Messina, an Ohio-based dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Citrus fruit

Citrus fruits and juices—a rich source of vitamin C and other nutrients—are good for you in many ways, but not when it comes to your teeth. Grapefruit and lemon juice, in particular, are highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel over time. In a 2008 study that involved soaking pulled teeth in various citrus juices, those two caused the most damage. Orange juice caused the least.

OJ is less acidic, Messina points out, and many store-bought varieties are also fortified with teeth-friendly calcium and vitamin D. “Fortified OJ is good for you on many levels,” he says. “Drink it, but brush and floss as recommended.”

Chewy candy

The stickier the candy, the worse it tends to be for your teeth. Extra-chewy candies—like taffy, caramels, or Jujyfruits—stick to (and between) teeth for a long time, allowing the bacteria in our mouths to feast leisurely on the deposited sugar. “Bacteria burns sugar to make acid, which dissolves the protective layer of tooth enamel and causes cavities,” Messina explains.

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Candies that are chewy, sugary, and acidic—a category that includes many “sour” varieties—deliver a “triple whammy of negatives,” Messina adds, because they carry their own payload of erosive acid, in addition to that produced by the interaction of sugar and bacteria.