Winning the “Fight” Against Cavities
I think we all grew up hearing, “Don’t eat too much candy, it will rot your teeth!” Most of us also were told by our pediatricians, “Never put a baby into bed with a bottle of milk or juice in its mouth.” But did you know how you and your family eat throughout the day, and I don’t just mean candy, may also affect your dental health?
Clearly food is meant to be enjoyed! But a little knowledge about food choices and how and when to enjoy them may help improve your familiy’s dental health (think fewer cavities or less plaque)—which can help you each stay healthier overall.
Following are some of my thoughts (as well as tips from the American Dental Association and other sources) that will help further reduce the risk of cavities in your family. And I’ve added in some of my “why’s” in italics to help you see the rationale behind what makes up each list.
The Good, the Mostly Good and the Bad Guys
Just to get into the mood, I’m whistling my own version of the theme song to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly!! So saddle up, let’s go!
The good guys! Foods naturally low in simple carbohydrates are not considered to be likely suspects for causing cavities. (A celery stick is technically a carbohydrate but in a complex form that doesn’t break down into component sugars easily.) Additionally, our “good guys” are not considered “sticky,” so they don’t encourage tooth decay. More about this in a second!
Examples include: crunchy raw veggies, cheese, nuts and 100% nut butters, meat, healthy fats, eggs and water each get blue ribbons in the “good guy category.”
Right down the middle of the road ride the foods which don’t usually cause cavities. Yet, they may contribute to them when good oral hygiene is lacking. Examples include: milk and dairy products (if you don’t get too carried away but only whole milk has enough fat content to not contribute to cavities), fresh fruit (crunchy is best), dark chocolate, ice cream (because it usually disappears fast and doesn’t stick around on teeth), salad dressings, smoothies and yogurt unsweetened or mildly sweetened (most of the pre-sweetened ones at the store are too sweet from a tooth standpoint ). Last and not least are whole grain breads and hot cereals like oatmeal. They come in a close second to the good guys.
Bringing up the rear is a posse of aggressive cavity causers. Everyone needs a treat now and then, but special handling is required. You may be surprised that this list includes dry foods, as well as foods that are foods high in sugar, as they either stick around a long time on teeth or tend usually longer to eat a serving’s worth.
Examples include: candy; soda pop, sports drinks and juice; chocolate milk; white bread, cookies, crackers, dried cereals and pretzels; dried fruit and fruit snacks. Oranges and bananas although delicious and nutritionally important, still make this list so a variety of fruit is important to oral health.
Saliva, sticky foods and plaque
Foods which are “sticky” encourage cavities. They cling to tooth surfaces, releasing sugars as they break down. Dry and processed foods such as crackers, cookies and granola bars become sticky as they are compacted into the nooks and crannies on a tooth surface, and their starches are quickly changed into sugar and another molecule called glucan (which is as sticky as it sounds).
A 2015 study, published through the National Library of Medicine, confirmed that sugars on your teeth produce acids when they are digested by certain bacteria in the mouth. The acids erode minerals from your tooth enamel. Although saliva contains enamel-restoring minerals and your toothpaste and water may contain fluoride, over time repeated “acid attacks” will encourage the development of cavities.
Ways to combat these dental enemies include snacking with crunchy fruit and veggies, cheese or nuts as part of your dietary routine and limiting sticky, starchy, sugary foods to main meals where the acid is better balanced out.
Water—a heroic multi-tasker
Drinking water throughout the day, during meals and following sugary snacks will not only help your overall health and hydration, but it can also help rinse away harmful bacteria and food debris and balance out that low pH we talked about earlier. And plaque can’t build up as easily in a well-hydrated mouth. One of the things we do with our family is to give each child a colorful stainless water bottle and keep it full. Water, or whole milk, instead of sugary drinks, will give our kids and yours a natural boost against tooth decay.
Recently we discussed the importance of maintaining regular flossing and brushing habits for your family. Brushing twice a day—once before breakfast and once before bedtime—will help keep their teeth ready for cavity combat. For more specifics about this, visit our November 3, 2021, blog called Avoiding the Brushing Battles.
As your dentist in Gig Harbor and on the Peninsula, my team and I are committed to serving your dental needs from the youngest to the oldest members of your family. Practicing regular good hygiene habits coupled with a healthy diet can truly help your family enjoy better dental health, leading to better overall health. And remember, when you have questions or concerns, we are here to help you.