As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, routine, non-emergency dental care has been restricted, making it more important than usual to stay up on optimal oral hygiene and dietary habits. The following are some commonly asked questions.
Q: What are the worst foods and drinks for my teeth?
As you may know, frequently consuming foods and drinks that are high in sugar, such as soft drinks and candy, can lead to tooth decay. It may come as a surprise that it’s not the sugar itself that directly causes cavities. The sugar we consume is metabolized by the bacteria in our mouths into acid. It’s this acid that eats away the mineralized structure of the tooth, leading to a cavity.
The amount of time the acid is in contact with the teeth is a major factor. Every time we eat or drink something with sugar, the bacteria in our mouths produce acid for twenty minutes. Thus, it’s not really the quantity of the sugary food or drink that’s the problem, but rather the frequency with which it’s consumed.
Let’s take soft drinks, for example. If you sipped a soft drink 10 times a day, that amounts to over 3 hours that your teeth are in contact with acid! From a dental perspective, it would be better to drink the entire soft drink along with a meal rather than sip on it throughout the day. So, which soft drink is the worst? It’s important to consider both the sugar content as well as the acidity. While all soft drinks are considered “bad” for your teeth, Mountain Dew and it’s off-brand counterparts have the worst combination of sugar content and acidity.
The same principle holds true for candy. While all candies (unless they’re sugarless) have the potential to cause cavities, the worst candies are those that stay in contact with your teeth for the greatest amount of time. These would be dissolvable candies like Jolly Ranchers, mints, and suckers, as well as sticky, gooey candies like caramels, Laffy Taffy, and Swedish Fish. Unlike chocolate, these types of candies take much longer to dissolve and can stay stuck in the grooves of the teeth, leading to a greater amount of time that the teeth are exposed to harmful acids.
Q: I know soft drinks are bad for my teeth, but what about diet sodas?
While diet sodas are generally sugar-free, they are often highly acidic which is also harmful for your teeth. A high degree of acidity can lead to erosion of the enamel, thereby weakening the tooth.
Q: How long should I wait after eating or drinking to brush my teeth?
The answer depends on what you are eating or drinking. For most foods and drinks, brushing right away is ideal. However, for foods that are highly acidic, like some of the soft drinks previously discussed, studies have shown that brushing right away can actually exacerbate the harmful erosive process due to the abrasion that the toothbrush bristles can cause on the temporarily weakened enamel surface. A better idea would be to rinse the mouth out with water after finishing the soft drink and brushing about 30 minutes later.