If we want to keep your "32's" looking their best, we need to do all we can to keep them out of harm's way. And one way to do this is to be on the lookout for foods and drinks we consume on a regular basis that are harmful to our teeth. Just as there are foods that are good and bad for our waistlines, there are foods that are good and bad for our teeth.
So does this mean we have to stop eating those culprits cold turkey? No, says James Sarant, DMD, owner of The Carolina Dental Spa in Raleigh, N.C. "People can still enjoy their favorites but they should consume them in moderation and take the extra steps needed to protect their teeth."
Read on to learn about the top five worst things for your teeth -- and how to mitigate the damage.
Carbonated soft drinks have lots of acids and sugar -- both of which aren't good for our teeth. We all know that sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay. Plaque -- a sticky film of bacteria and other materials (like sugar) -- is constantly lurking all around on our teeth and gums. Every time bacteria comes in contact with sugar or starch, acid is the result of that union. Acid attacks the teeth and basically erodes the enamel, making room for cavities to form, according to the American Dental Association.
Did you know that some regular sodas contain as much as 11 teaspoons of sugar per serving? Your poor teeth are just swimming in the sweet stuff. Juices and sports drinks aren't immune either, adds Dr. Sarant. They too have high levels of sugars and acidity.
Diet soft drinks are not much better either. While sugar is not present, they still contain phosphoric and citric acids which can erode your teeth over time. Drinking diet soft drinks might be a great way to keep your figure in check, but for your molars, not so much.
So what's a soda or "pop" lover to do? Experts advise people to rinse with water after drinking a soft drink to prevent the remnants of the cola from hanging on to your tooth enamel. Phew. We thought we'd be forced to give up our 3 o'clock fix.
Who knew that taking a trip to Rite Aid to get medicine for your uncontrollable cough could result in tooth decay? Yep, it's true. Some medicines that cure what ails us can be enemies of the state to our teeth. That's because taking certain medicines cause chronic dry mouth. When we lose saliva, we lose the protection it affords our mouths from bacterial infection, tooth decay and gum disease.
"Saliva is our friend," says Dr. Sarant. "It contains minerals that guard our enamel surface and provides high levels of calcium and phosphate ions at the tooth surface."
The more medicines a person takes, the more he increases his risk of getting chronic dry mouth. Cough medicines and antihistamines found over the counter at drug and grocery stores are common culprits. Other mediations that cause dry mouth are antidepressants like Prozac and antihistamines like Benadryl.
So what do you do? First and foremost, don't just stop taking the medications -- particularly if your doctor prescribes them. Let your doctor know if the problem persists. You can suck on foods like sugar-free candies and sugar-free popsicles to help stimulate the flow of saliva. Also, chewing sugarless gum is helpful.
In addition, make sure you are adopting good oral hygiene habits including brushing twice a day and after every meal if possible. Flossing daily and using fluoride toothpaste are also key. Of course visiting your dentist regularly and letting her know about your dry mouth issues will keep you ahead of the game.
Hard candy like lollipops and Jawbreakers are a favorite of the young, and the young at heart. The sweet stuff takes many of us back to our childhood when candy was our BFF. But our moms knew that hard candy wasn't good for our baby teeth, and they still aren't good for the permanents either.
Dr. Sarant calls hard candy "tooth crackers." The harm they cause is two-fold: Not only do they crack your teeth, but because hard candies dissolve slowly, they coat the teeth with sugar for a long time. During one of the most famous candy holidays, Halloween, when both kids and adults are consuming even more than normal amounts of hard candy, it's important to really monitor what you put in your pearly whites.
If you can't put the suckers down -- after all, who can resist a watermelon Blow Pop? -- the Delta Dental Plan of Illinois advises you to drink water or milk after eating hard candy. Both liquids can help rinse sugar off of the teeth until you have an opportunity to properly brush them. Plus, milk not only has calcium for your bones, it's filled with anti-cavity properties that help eliminate the harm sugar does to the teeth.
Sweets aren't the only foods that cause tooth decay. Starchy foods are usually somewhere around the scene of the crime. They turn into sugar right away because the mouth begins the pre-digestion process through the enzymes in saliva. Also, some starchy foods like potato chips and popcorn can become lodged in between teeth and in tooth crevices, contributing to plaque. Most people don't floss or brush right immediately after eating, so the plaque that causes tooth decay has ample opportunity to start forming, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Once again, no one is suggesting that you give up on macaroni and cheese and pasta rigatoni. It's much better for your teeth if you eat starches as part of your meal when you have a greater chance of brushing your teeth afterwards. If you do have to snack, choose foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and nuts.
This one's a no-brainer. People chew on cold, hard ice for a variety of reasons: Out of nervousness or boredom; to kick a tobacco habit; as a substitute for something else or because they like the "invisible" taste,. In fact, there is a name for the habit of chewing ice. It's called pagophagia. It's in the family of medical conditions where people have a compulsive desire to chomp on things that have zero nutritional value like ice, clay, dirt, chalk or paint chips.
Whatever it's called, the point is crystal clear. Chewing on hard ice can wreak havoc on your teeth even more than other hard substances. Just like popcorn and hard candy, chewing ice can chip, break or crack your teeth. The habit also has the potential to wear down your teeth's enamel. If your crack or fracture is large enough, you could be in the dentist's chair prepping for a root canal or a tooth extraction.
If you're truly craving ice, you may need to check in with your doctor to make sure you are not suffering from iron deficiency anemia. If that's the case, getting treatment will help the cravings go away. You can also try drinking your beverages through a straw or order your drinks without ice so you don't even see the cubes.
HoWStuffWorks looks into why alcohol producers in the U.S. aren't legally required to include nutritional labeling on bottling.
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