Ah junk food. We know how comforting and addicting it can be to plow through a bag of your favorite snacks. There may even be some times when junk food seems appropriate. But before you binge on your guilty pleasure, consider the potential negative effects beyond your waistline. Some junk foods are really hard on your teeth. All junk food should be eaten in moderation, but especially these ten which are guilty for increasing the odds of tooth decay.
Why does what you eat matter?
Our mouth, and our whole body really, hosts a wide range of bacteria. Some of these bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship with our bodies and mouth- fighting off bad bacteria without harming us. However, some bacteria in your mouth are bad for you- feeding off left behind food and sugars and creating acid as a byproduct. If these bacteria are allowed to multiply and the acid is not removed from your teeth, it will eventually wear through your enamel and create a cavity.
Sour candies are one of the worst things you can snack on. Many aspects of sour candies are tooth enamel kryptonite- they contain high levels of sugar & acid, AND they stick to your teeth. After you enjoy these mouth-puckering gummies, small remnants get stuck to tooth surfaces. Here they provide a plentiful food source for bacteria which will then create acid that wears down your enamel. Additionally, the acid from the sour candies themselves weakens your enamel, making it more vulnerable to decay.
Soda & Sugary Drinks
Most sodas are also high in sugar and acid. Even diet sodas have high levels of enamel-destroying acids. In one can of a typical soda, there is 1/4 cup of sugar! Because it’s dissolved in the liquid, you can easily consume much more sugar than you would normally tolerate. Also, people tend to drink sodas over a prolonged period of time, which just spreads out the length of time your teeth are taking an acid and sugar bath while you enjoy your treat.
Alcohol also contains sugar. However one of the most damaging side effects of alcohol is the fact that it dries out your mouth. We’ve covered the importance of saliva many times on our blog here and here. Saliva is a great defender of your tooth enamel! Alcohol deposits sugars on your teeth, and then reduces your saliva which helps wash those sugars away. Try to make alcohol an occasional treat for the sake of your teeth.
Sticky Candies & Dried Fruit
Like many of the culprits on this list, high sugar levels and the ability to stick on teeth put sticky candies and fruit on the list of junk foods you should avoid. Sticking on chewing surfaces and even between teeth, candies provide food for bacteria for a prolonged period of time.While dried fruit is typically seen as a healthier choice, it’s usually better to stick to fresh fruits when it’s an option. The density of sugar in fresh fruit is lower, and there is more fiber to help your body process the sugars better. Also, fresh fruit helps you get fuller faster and therefore eat fewer sugars.
Crackers & Potato chips
Crackers and potato chips are simple carbohydrates and starches. These break down very easily into sugar in your mouth. Also, starches are prone to getting stuck between teeth. Additionally, crackers and chips have a very satisfying and addictive crunch, but without a lot of volume. This means you’re more likely to eat more than the recommended serving, and more likely to spread your snack over a longer period of time. If you plan on enjoying crackers, consider pairing them with cheese or something that will help fill your stomach and neutralize the acid.
Very acidic foods
Acids are your tooth enamel’s main enemy. Most of the foods on this list are in trouble for either containing acid directly, or for being full of sugar which feeds bacteria and then produces acids. Naturally, any foods high in acid themselves should be eaten in moderation. For example, it’s best to limit citrus snacks, and avoid eating a whole lemon yourself. Another potential culprit is vinegar which is found in many sauces and recipes. Acids weaken and wear down your enamel, leaving the vulnerable dentin exposed and ripe for decay.
Yes, Ice is merely water, which as we just wrote about, is GREAT for your teeth. However, ice is intended to cool drinks, not for people to chew it! Chewing on hard things, especially as a habit, can make you more prone to damage to your teeth. You shouldn’t be afraid to chew hard things, but you also shouldn’t make a habit of it, especially when the hard thing won’t give you necessary calories. Feel free to put ice in your drinks, but it’s best to only enjoy water in its liquid form.
How to Protect Your Teeth From Junk Foods
If you enjoy something sugary, acidic or sticky, try to enjoy it for a brief period of time (not nursed and savored over an hour or more.) Once you’ve enjoyed it, drink a large glass of water, swishing your mouth occasionally. Wait about thirty minutes for your saliva to remineralize your teeth. Then, brush and floss well to make sure you remove acids and sugars that could help the bacteria in your mouth thrive.