By Kate Harveston — Living naturally is one of the best ways to ensure that you are taking care of your body in an optimal way. Though it’s not always easy to avoid the harmful foods and chemicals that have become so common in our consumer landscape, it’s worth it to know that we’re avoiding putting our bodies in unnecessary danger.
Diet is one of the first things that comes to mind when many people — myself included — think “natural.” Indeed, fueling your body with food rich in nutrients and low in unnecessary additives is a great way to stay healthy. However, you shouldn’t think just about a food item’s overall healthfulness once it’s in your digestive system. It is also essential to consider the ways the foods you eat may be affecting your teeth.
I’ve personally been able to avoid problems like cavities, but I certainly didn’t treat my teeth right for a long time, which I’ll delve into more. I’ve also seen the impact poor dental health had on friends and family. Your smile and your dental health affect more than you may think! Your mouth plays more of a role in self-confidence than many of us realize. According to friends of mine, they believe it has had an impact on some of their professional successes (or lack thereof) throughout their entire lives.
We should make it a point to take care of the bodies we’ve been given — including our mouths.
The Importance of Dental Health
Taking good care of your teeth isn’t just important if you want to have a shining smile. Dental health also plays an important role in the overall health of the body. In fact, poor oral health can indicate other health issues or lead to problems down the line.
The mouth is full of bacteria. Usually, these bacteria aren’t harmful, but if proper oral hygiene like brushing and flossing isn’t practiced and if bacteria grow too much, this could lead to tooth decay, cavities, inflammation, infections, gum disease and even potentially more serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease.
So, if you want to stay healthy overall, you shouldn’t forget about your teeth. As I’ve come to learn recently from years of forgetting, it’s also important to visit your dentist twice a year. Throughout college, I forgot to do this often, and although I (luckily) never had to deal with cavities, I know for a fact my teeth were not as clean as they could and should have been. Visiting the dentist after all that time was always a painful experience. It shouldn’t be and doesn’t have to be!
The Role of Diet in Maintaining Dental Health
In addition to brushing and flossing regularly and visiting your dentist for a checkup at least twice a year, diet plays an important role in managing oral health. This is because what you put in your mouth affects that bacteria that live there.
Like any living things, bacteria need energy to grow. Bacteria derive their energy from sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. so any sugary substance that gets stuck in your mouth for an extended period of time may be giving them extra fuel. Additionally, when bacteria metabolize sugars and convert it to energy through a process called glycolysis, they produce acid as a byproduct.
It is this acid, and the bacteria that produce it, that cause tooth problems like cavities. The acids the bacteria produce — which include lactic acid, formic acid, and acetic acid, depending on the amount of excess sugars available to them — can corrode tooth enamel, the hard, protective material surrounding the tooth, leading to pain and sensitivity.
In addition to the acids produced by overly active bacteria, enamel can also be worn away by exposure to acidic foods and drinks. Any food or drink with a pH value lower than 5.5 is considered acidic, so components of the diet can also damage the teeth.
In order to avoid the damage bacteria and acid can do to your teeth, it’s important to floss and brush often. Most of us know the feeling of going to the dentist after you haven’t been flossing and having them bleed your teeth out with instruments. I know I do! It’s not fun, but it’s a consequence of forgetting to floss. You should also rinse the mouth with water after eating sugary or acidic foods and, if possible, avoid the foods and drinks that cause tooth decay and other oral health problems entirely.
One place I’ve fallen short over the years is that I have succumbed to the use of teeth whitening strips. These can rip the enamel off of your teeth. I felt my teeth become weaker and stopped using them. Since then, I’ve been working on ways to start building the strength of my teeth back up. Here are my tips.
Things You Should Keep Out of Your Mouth (And Your Diet)
Because acid and sugar have the potential to do damage to your teeth and your overall health, it is a good idea to avoid these things as much as possible, especially in forms that may linger on and between the teeth after consumption.
In addition to making natural choices, it’s important to ensure that you are also making choices that are safe for your teeth. With that in mind, here are some of the most harmful foods and chemicals you should avoid keeping your teeth healthy and strong.
We all know that soda is bad for us. Every can is packed full of sugar, additives and artificial flavorings. But soda is also extremely bad for your teeth. It’s why dentists so often remind parents and children that sugary drinks should be kept to a minimum.
There are a few reasons soda is so destructive to the teeth. First, the carbonation soda is so well-known for is a product of carbonic acid. Those bubbles may pop nicely, but they also make the beverage extremely acidic. Additionally, many sodas contain citric acid as well, which just adds more pressure to tooth enamel.
With sugary sodas, the impact is even worse. They drench the mouth in sugars, which give bacteria plenty of fuel to grow and produce yet more acid. Drinking soda consistently throughout the day is probably the worst thing people can do to their teeth because it erodes enamel without giving the mouth any break to repair damages.
2. Carbonated Water
Though carbonated water may not have the sugar that makes sodas notorious, it’s still not good for your teeth. The carbonic acid in soda is also contained in carbonated water, hence the bubbles and the name, so carbonated water is still decently acidic.
Though drinking carbonated water is certainly better than guzzling a bunch of pop throughout the day, the acid it contains can still damage the teeth. If you can stand to replace carbonated water with it’s flatter, more natural sibling, it’s probably a good idea. Not only will normal water hydrate you without washing acid over your teeth, but it will also help rinse out lingering sugars from other parts of your diet.
3. Citrus Fruits
While citrus fruits are both healthy and delicious, they’re not always very good for your teeth. Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and limes contain lots of sugars, and they also naturally contain citric acid, which can wear on tooth enamel.
Though citrus fruits contain lots of healthy vitamins, their contact with teeth should be minimized when possible. In particular, be wary that fruit juices may be damaging to your teeth if you drink them consistently over time. Avoid highly acidic fruit juices like orange juice with additives and extra sugars in particular — fruit already packs enough of a sugary punch on its own.
Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to a lot of health issues. However, its negative impact on oral health is less known. Drinking alcohol can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and increased risk of oral cancer. This is due to several factors.
Like the other drinks on this list, alcohol is highly acidic, which leads to enamel decay. Some alcoholic drinks may also fuel bacteria growth if they include a lot of sugar or syrups. But unlike the other drinks mentioned so far, alcohol has an even worse effect on the teeth due to its dehydrating properties.
Saliva is responsible for washing sugar and other lingering food particles out of your mouth. But when you drink alcohol, your mouth is dried out and less saliva is produced, leading to increased bacteria growth and worse damage from lingering acid.
Try your best to avoid alcohol. But when you do drink, space out drinks by several hours, stay hydrated and avoid sugary drinks.
5. Potato Chips
Potato chips and other crunchy foods are well-known for causing problems with braces. But potato chips and other starchy snacks can also lead to bad oral health in general.
Potatoes are starchy foods with lots of carbohydrates. When a potato chip enters the mouth, those carbs instantly begin to be converted into sugars that bacteria will feed on.
What’s worse: the starchy nature of potato chips means that they congeal easily when chewed, allowing those carbohydrate deposits to get stuck in and between teeth. If that food lingers there without being flossed or rinsed away, it can lead to serious damage.
When eating chips and crackers, brush and floss teeth soon after eating. If you want to avoid them altogether, try finding other foods that may satisfy your crunchy cravings, like raw vegetables.
6. Hard Candy
Hard candy is a bummer for your teeth no matter what way you look at it. Hard candies are pretty much just compact sugar, and there’s no good way to eat them without damaging your teeth.
When you chew on hard candy, you run the risk of wearing through enamel or even chipping a tooth. Plus, those little shards can get stuck between teeth and be hard to get out.
Sucking on hard candy isn’t necessarily better, though. When you leave a piece of candy in your mouth and wait for it to dissolve over time, you’re allowing its sugar to stay in your mouth for a very long time, which bacteria love.
There’s a reason dentists don’t generally hand out lollipops at their offices. They’re pretty bad for your teeth. Remember that goes for many cough drops and lozenges as well.
7. White Bread
Like potato chips, white bread and other refined carbs are bad for your teeth because they transform into sugar easily in your mouth. White bread, in particular, should be avoided because it becomes sticky when chewed, allowing it to stick to the teeth and hide between them.
Instead of white breads and pastas, consider replacing them with whole wheat versions. Not only will these be somewhat better for your teeth, but they’ll also likely be better for your health overall.
8. Gummy Candies and Dried Fruit
Gummy candies are a predictable addition to this list, but they are still important to mention. More than any other source of sugar, gummy, chewy candies like gummy bears, candy bars and caramels are likely to get sugary goo stuck in your teeth. Additionally, if you partake in the sour variety, they may contain enamel-damaging acids as well.
In addition to packaged, gummy candies, you should also be wary of dried fruit. Though it is a natural alternative to these candies, it can still be bad for the teeth. The sugar and acid in the fruit can still be damaging, and dried fruit is as if not more likely to get stuck between the teeth.
Consume dried fruit in moderation and keep floss handy. Consider switching to fresh fruit if possible for the same sweetness without the risk of it sticking in your teeth.
How to Keep Your Teeth Healthy
Avoiding foods with acids and excessive sugar can help keep your teeth healthy and safe from decay and infection. Though you don’t need to eliminate the aforementioned foods from your diet entirely, avoiding them when possible and practicing good oral hygiene by brushing, flossing and rinsing your mouth regularly can certainly help.
In addition to making dietary changes, you may also want to consult with your dentist, especially if you have had tooth problems in the past. Regular dentist visits can help keep your teeth thoroughly cleaned and allow you to keep an eye out for more serious oral health problems like gum disease and oral cancer. Your dentist should also be able to advise you on how to keep your teeth safe.
There are other precautions you can take as well. When drinking acidic beverages like juice or coffee, for example, drink through a straw to minimize contact with the teeth. And don’t brush directly after consuming an acidic food or beverage, as this may do more harm to the weakened enamel than good. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help clear out your mouth instead.
Your oral health is important to your overall well-being. Even if you don’t notice problems with your teeth, it’s always a good idea to be proactive and take steps to protect them from damage and wear. I know from experience that I feel much better overall since I started to become more aware of the things I should do to maintain good oral health.
Avoiding foods and drinks with high sugar and acid content is a good way to promote oral health, and thankfully, cutting out these foods isn’t too hard to do naturally by paying attention to what you eat and how you eat it.
Even natural and healthy foods can have a negative impact on the teeth. However, by being mindful about consumption, finding healthy alternatives and practicing good oral hygiene, it’s easy to overcome these barriers for a shinier, stronger, healthier smile. And a healthier smile means a healthier, happier you.
Kate Harveston is a health and wellness writer from Pennsylvania. She is passionate about teaching people how to live more all-natural and sustainable lives. You can find more of her work at sites like Greatist, Care2 and the Environmental News Network, as well as at her blog, So Well, So Woman.