When it comes to caring for your well-being, dental health may not rank as high as other concerns, like cardiovascular and digestive health. Yet, when something goes wrong with your chompers — think bleeding gums or a cavity — figuring out how to improve your dental hygiene quickly becomes top of mind.
Besides keeping up with regular visits to your dentist, brushing and flossing, one of the best ways to maintain dental health is by steering clear of certain foods and drinks that can chip away at your mouth's wellness.
"Certain ingredient may not only be damaging to your waistline but to your teeth as well," says Sarah Jebreil, D.D.S., a dentist in Newport Beach, Calif. Here are seven foods that dentists are quick to sideline for the sake of dental health.
1. Red Wine
While red wine may be less acidic than the white varieties, cosmetic dentist and founder of Apa Beauty product line, Michael Apa, D.D.S., warns that just a glass of merlot could cause staining. The good news is you don't have to drink your cab or pinot noir out of a straw to keep your smile bright and shiny — simply rinse your mouth with water after drinking it. Phew!
Lemons may be low in calories, packed with fiber and high in vitamin C, but don't ever think about sucking on a whole lemon or drinking undiluted lemon juice. "Lemons erode your enamel due to acidity," says Dr. Apa, who advises against letting your teeth come into contact with any sort of lemon concentrate. Luckily you don't have to avoid the tart citrus altogether. Adding lemon juice to your favorite foods is totally fine, as is drinking water with as much lemon squeezed into it as you please.
3. Sticky Candies
Candies that aren't only sweet but also sticky — think Sour Patch Kids or Laffy Taffy — may serve as a throwback to childhood and offer a pleasant sugar rush, but they're bad news for your teeth, says Maricelle Abayon, D.M.D., dentist and faculty member with Eastman Institute for Oral Health, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"Gummy candy and taffy stick to the tooth surface and can be difficult to clean off," Dr. Abayon says. The risk? When residual sugar is left on the surface of the tooth, it can up your risk of developing cavities.
4. Fruit Juice
Whether you loving grabbing a glass of orange juice with your breakfast, a green juice on the way home from the gym or lemonade on a hot summer day, overdoing consumption of fruit juice — especially apple and orange juice — is a no-no if you want to keep your teeth healthy.
"It breaks down into acids that demineralize the tooth surface, also increasing the risk for developing cavities," says Dr. Abayon. Tooth erosion — loss of tooth enamel from acidic foods and beverages — is a potential issue, as well.
A 2015 study published in PLoS One compared various beverages for their effect on tooth erosion and found that apple juice and orange juice were about five times more erosive than light cola, and lemon juice was significantly erosive, as well.
You already know that ordering a frothy, sugar-packed coffee drink is the fast track to consuming empty calories. But coffee, in and of itself, poses problems for teeth, and adding sugar to the mix ends up wreaking havoc on your teeth, says Dr. Jebreil.
"While these drinks are so tasty and comforting, the acid from coffee combined with the sugar can really be damaging to the enamel and cause tooth decay," she says. "In addition, coffee is a diuretic, causing the mouth to become dry after consumption." A dry mouth lays the groundwork for buildup of plaque and harmful bacteria.
What's more, if this effect is combined with high amounts of sugar, a sugar film gets left on the teeth, contributing to enamel weakening and tooth decay, says Dr. Jebreil.
"If you slip and do consume any of these offenders, don't stress, just be sure to drink plenty of water and swish it around your mouth to remove and residual film from these ingredients," she says. "Of course, if you can, brushing your teeth would be best."
Much like juice, frequent guzzling of soda is frowned upon by dental health care providers, given its propensity to promote cavities and tooth erosion. "Besides being sugary, soda is acidic," says Steven Freeman, D.D.S., owner of Elite Smiles, a dental office located in St. Augustine, Fl.
"Enamel begins to dissolve at a pH of 5.5 and under," says Dr. Freeman. And most sodas come in well below that — under the 3.0 mark — meaning they're highly acidic and erosive.
If you must drink soda, Dr. Freeman advises drinking versus sipping. "Sipping causes the pH in your mouth to stay lower longer," he says. "And do not brush immediately after drinking from a can, this can damage the already softened enamel further."
7. Dried Fruit
When you're suffering from a sweet tooth, you might think it's OK to gravitate to nature's candy — a.k.a. fruit — instead of candy. But you'll do well to reach for fresh fruit over dried options, like highly-acidic prunes, apricots, and raisins.
That said, a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition notes that dried fruit does have significantly more nutritional benefits than candy (duh!), including being high in fiber, low in fat and containing useful levels of micronutrients. So if your choices are between candy and dried fruit, go for the fruit.
Pistachios are not only a low-sodium food, but they are also low in carbohydrates and packed with protein, fiber, healthy fats, minerals like copper, phosphorus and manganese and two of the B vitamins.
Snapping pistachio shells in your mouth is even kinda fun, right? Unfortunately, by using your teeth to crack them you may be chipping them and not even know it. Instead of opting for the shell-on version, Dr. Apa suggests buying your nuts shelled — unless you want to end up in his office.
Prized for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric — a plant related to ginger that's grown throughout India and other parts of Asia and Central America — has been popping up in supplements, juices and sauces galore. But it's important not to overdo it on this healthy spice if you're concerned about maintaining your pearly whites.
"While the health benefits are astounding, so is the stain that it leaves," says Dr. Jebreil. That said, the concern may be more for people who have had certain cosmetic work done on their teeth. "Do not consume turmeric if you have bonding or temporaries or are wearing clear aligners," she says. "Turmeric stains everything a nice golden brown, including your tongue."
10. Green Juice
Green juice is pretty much the holy grail of health, as it is typically made with a bevy of raw fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals. But the greenish hue isn't quite kosher for your cuspids.
According to Dr. Apa, the green pigmentation can stain them. However, you shouldn't quit consuming your daily greens — just don't chug them straight from the bottle if you want to keep your teeth white instead of tinted to match your paper folding money. "Sip your green juice through a straw," he suggests.
But Dr. Apa warns that their gorgeous reddish hue can cling to your canines and tint them that beautiful shade of beet red. Not so pretty, right? Whether sipping them in a smoothie or chomping them on their own, just make sure to brush your teeth after eating.
12. Saltine Crackers
Sugary foods and drinks tend to get the worst rap when it comes to damaging your teeth, but some salty snacks aren't that great either. Refined carbohydrates — like the ones in saltine crackers, Goldfish crackers, even gluten-free crackers — are fermentable and highly-processed starches, Dr. Burnhenne says.
The sugars in these types of high-glycemic snacks mix with naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth, fermenting and creating lactic acid, which is linked to erosion of tooth enamel. What's more, many processed carbohydrates contain genetically engineered ingredients, which make the food more cariogenic, or cavity-causing, says Dr. Burhenne.
Additional reporting by Leah Groth