Your Smile Is What You Eat

Posted on Oct 11, 2016 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

We are in a smile-risky time of year. October brings Halloween and its onslaught of sugar. November is filled with sweet and carbohydrate yummies like pecan pie and stuffing with gravy. December surrounds you with candy canes, sweet gifts from the kitchen and frequent nibbling at social gatherings.

Enjoying this time of year with friends and family is a healthy part of being socially active. However, some of these indulgences can put you at a higher risk for problems they can cause your smile.

Before you pop that piece of fudge into your mouth (even if it is Aunt Betty’s secret recipe!), be aware that some foods have greater potential to damage teeth and increase your risk for gum disease. These include:

Beware high acid foods and beverages! Your tooth enamel can be the victim.

Beware high acid foods and beverages! Your tooth enamel can be the victim.

• Wine: While wine is said to be good for you, how it is consumed creates a particular problem when it comes to your smile. Anytime you eat or drink, your mouth experiences an acid attack, a normal part of the digestive process. However, this acid is so potent that it can soften tooth enamel, leaving teeth vulnerable to decay. As most people do, sipping wine over a period of time simply draws out this acid bath. Add to that the acidity of wine and your smile gets a one-two punch for a higher risk of decay.

• Citrus & acidic foods and beverages: The acidity in citrus (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.) can erode tooth enamel, leaving them more susceptible to decay. And, it’s not just tart-tasting fruits that have this risk. Foods with vinegar (pickles, salad dressings, etc.) and tomatoes or tomato-based foods (red pasta sauce, catsup, etc.) have an acidic effect on tooth enamel that heightens the risk of decay.

• Sugar & Carbs: The American population over-indulges in sweets and carbohydrates to an often unhealthy extent. Just look at the obesity rate in the U.S. (nearly 36% of adults) and it’s pretty clear this isn’t occurring from eating green beans and grilled fish. The problem for your smile is how oral bacteria are super-charged by these foods, boosting their ability to reproduce. And, since many of these foods stick to teeth longer, the potential for damage is much higher.

• Caffeine: Caffeine has a drying effect on oral tissues. A dry mouth means less saliva flow, which gives oral bacteria less opportunity to be rinsed from the mouth efficiently. This provides an environment where bacteria can breed and thrive. Caffeinated beverages include coffee, tea, colas, and many energy drinks. While not caffeinated, alcoholic beverages are also drying to oral tissues. Remember, oral bacteria is the source of the majority of problems in the mouth. The next time you feel your mouth is dry and your breath is bad (common companions), it’s because oral bacteria are running rampant.

• Snacking: As mentioned above, every time you eat or drink, an acid attack begins in the mouth. This means that when you sip your soda or nibble on a cookie, an acid attack occurs. When your mouth is experiencing frequent acid attacks during the day, it’s easy to see why the damage can place such high risks to tooth enamel and gum tissues.

Of course, I would never advise you to skip a glass of wine at a fun cocktail party or deny yourself a piece of Aunt Betty’s fudge. However, now that you know the foods that are most harmful to your smile and why, let a little voice in the back of your mind remind you, “Your smile is at risk.” This may help you to alter your choices so you can avoid costly and time-consuming repairs.

As you indulge during the holiday season, here are a few ways to lessen the impact of damaging foods and beverages:

   –  Don’t rush to brush: After eating or drinking, wait 20-30 minutes before brushing. This allows the acid attack in your mouth to subside so abrasion from your tooth brush or tooth paste won’t wear down tooth enamel.

   –  Rinse with water: After a cola or glass of wine, drink some water and let it wash over teeth before swallowing. Even better, swish with water in the bathroom.

   –  Combine sweets with meals: Rather than eat caramel popcorn or a pumpkin pie slice as a snack, indulge in these as dessert following your meal. Since your meal has already created an acid attack in your mouth, these yummies only prolong it a bit rather than trigger a new one.

   –  Brush, floss and have regular dental check-ups: Daily home care coupled with regular dental cleanings and exams are your best ways to prevent problems or to catch small ones before they require major repairs.

This holiday season, use these tips to save the time and money you may have needed for dental repairs. These will help you to maintain a confident, healthy smile that follows you far beyond this special time of year.

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