We all know that sugary foods and drinks cause cavities. However, our understanding of the science of nutrition and preventive dental health has evolved considerably from this simplistic statement.
With that in mind, here are a few friendly nutritional guidelines to help prevent cavities.
Acid causes cavities
The sugar in your diet is only indirectly involved. Since the bacteria in your mouth consume the sugar left on your teeth, they produce the acid that creates holes in tooth enamel. Sticky sugars stay on the teeth for long periods of time, so they are the worst culprits. Chocolate has just as much sugar as a lollipop or gummy bears, but chocolate does not cause cavities, since it doesn’t stick to teeth and is rapidly cleared from the mouth.
Soft drinks are a ‘triple threat’
Not only are soft drinks very high in sugar, but they are also very acidic (pH as low as 2.7) and are made from a sticky, syrupy base, leaving a sticky sweet film on the teeth that is hard for saliva to break down.
Keep in mind that sport drinks, energy drinks, iced tea and fruit juices in cans or bottles have just as much sugar in them as soft drinks. Although diet soft drinks do not have sugar in them, they are still just as acidic as the regular soft drinks.
Snacks with fibre clean teeth
Foods that are rich in fibre, such as apples, carrots and celery, benefit your teeth in two important ways. First, fibre in them scrubs your teeth while you chew them, removing plaque that causes cavities. Second, dietary fibre increases saliva flow, and saliva also fights cavities. Any fruit with skin that is eaten has a high fibre content.
Teeth love dairy
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium, phosphates and Vitamin D, all of which promote a strong outer layer of enamel on teeth. Recent studies have also shown that drinking milk after sugar or acidic foods can quickly neutralize acidity and restore a balanced pH. For people who are sensitive to dairy products, alternatives such as soy or almond milk are equally rich in calcium, phosphates and Vitamin D.
Sugarless gum is a good guy
Sugarless gums sweetened with xylitol are actually beneficial, as xylitol has been shown to suppress bacteria that produce damaging acid. The same is true for other products sweetened with xylitol.
Tea fights cavities
Certain components in both green and black teas kill or reduce bacteria associated with decay. There’s a catch with this one – don’t negate the positive effect by adding sugar or honey to your tea!
Water is still the best!
Good old tap water is still the best way to prevent cavities. Water neutralizes acidity in the mouth, keeps saliva glands hydrated, and contains fluoride, which strengthens the enamel on teeth and makes them more resistant to acid breakdown.
Dr. Allan Katchky is a dentist who practises in the East End