7 Foods That May Damage Your Teeth

Will Kreznick

The foods and beverages that you include in your diet all affect your teeth and gums. While some foods and beverages promote healthy teeth and gums, others may lead to tooth decay, erosion, and the development of oral disease. This article covers 7 foods and beverages that may damage your […]

The foods and beverages that you include in your diet all affect your teeth and gums.

While some foods and beverages promote healthy teeth and gums, others may lead to tooth decay, erosion, and the development of oral disease.

This article covers 7 foods and beverages that may damage your teeth.

Sugary beverages like soda, sweetened coffee drinks, and energy drinks have a slew of negative effects on health. They promote cardiovascular disease, weight gain, insulin resistance, and more (1).

Thus, it may come as no surprise that sugary drinks are also harmful to your teeth and gums (1, 2).

These beverages affect your teeth in two harmful ways: They are acidic and they provide fuel for cavity-promoting bacteria. Cavity-promoting bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutans, feed on sugar and produce acids that demineralize or break down tooth enamel (3).

So, acidic, sugary drinks like cola deliver a one-two punch to your teeth. Not only are they naturally acidic, but they also lead to further acid production.

Research shows that soft drinks and sugary beverages are extremely erosive to your teeth. In fact, frequently consuming acidic carbonated drinks like soda and sports drinks is considered a main dietary factor in dental erosion (4, 5).

Though some people may think diet soda is a better choice for oral health, this is not the case.

In fact, diet cola has been shown to be even more erosive to tooth enamel than regular Coca-Cola. Researchers suggest that diet cola may actually be more erosive to teeth because it contains citric acid, which binds to calcium and removes it from the teeth (6, 7).

Holding or swishing soda and other acidic beverages in your mouth may be especially problematic, as this increases the time that the acidic substance is in contact with your teeth (8).

Experts say you should also avoid brushing your teeth right after drinking acidic beverages, like soda, because your enamel is vulnerable to damage (8).

Consuming cola, sports drinks, and other acidic beverages regularly could lead to irreversible damage to your teeth.

Plus, studies have shown that in young adults, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with dental caries, or cavities, which is a major contributor to tooth loss (9).

For this reason, it’s best to avoid or limit sugary, acidic beverages as much as possible (8).

Summary

Soft drinks and sugary beverages are erosive to your teeth, and consuming these frequently can lead to irreversible damage to your teeth.

As mentioned above, sugar feeds harmful bacteria in your mouth, which leads to the production of acids that break down tooth enamel.

This is why dietary added sugar intake is considered the most important risk factor for cavities (10).

Keep in mind that natural sugars found in foods like fruits and dairy products have not been shown to significantly contribute to dental cavities.

This is because sources of natural sugars provide protective compounds, like fiber and minerals, and stimulate salivary flow in the mouth, which helps protect the teeth and gums (10).

On the other hand, added sugars like high fructose corn syrup and table sugar can significantly contribute to the development of cavities and poor oral health.

Numerous studies have shown that children and adults with diets high in added sugar have a significantly greater risk of cavities and gum disease (11, 12).

Sucking on candies like lollipops, caramels, and sweetened lozenges is one of the worst things you can do for your teeth. This practice increases the time that your teeth are exposed to sugar, which is a key factor in the development of cavities (13).

Eating a lot of added sugar can also harm your gums by contributing to increased inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage gum tissue (14).

A 2014 study that included data from 2,437 young adults found that eating added sugar frequently was associated with a greater risk of gum disease (14).

Summary

Sugar feeds acid-producing bacteria in the mouth, and this leads to dental erosion. Sugar can also damage gum tissue and increase the risk of gum disease.

Many people start their day off with a bowl of sugary cereal or an icing-covered donut.

Not only will these food choices leave you feeling hungry in an hour or so due to their lack of protein and other important nutrients, but these foods are high in added sugar and refined carbs, which are not good for your teeth.

Some cereals and sugary baked goods contain several teaspoons worth of added sugar per serving, which can contribute to dental erosion and gum disease.

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and grain-based sweets are some of the top contributors of added sugar intake in children and adolescents ages 6–19 (15).

If you frequently reach for a breakfast food high in added sugar, like sweetened breakfast cereals or pastries, try switching to a more nutritious, low sugar breakfast. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • a bowl of plain oatmeal topped with nut butter and berries
  • an egg and veggie omelet with avocado

Summary

A diet high in added sugar can lead to poor oral health. Added sugar intake is considered the most important risk factor for cavities, so it’s best to limit your intake of sugary foods.

Refined carbs, like white bread and white rice, and certain starchy foods, like potato chips, may contribute to poor oral health.

As with added sugar, bacteria in the mouth rapidly ferment the sugars found in carb sources like white bread and chips, which produces enamel-eroding acid (16).

Eating lots of these foods has been linked to an increased risk of cavities.

A 2011 study in 198 children found that greater intake of processed starches, like potato chips, was associated with a significantly increased risk of cavities (17).

A 2020 review that included five studies also found that eating processed starch-containing foods between meals was associated with a greater risk of cavities (18).

What’s more, some research suggests that starchy foods can increase the cavity-causing effects of sugar. Starches are sticky, which increases the time that sugar remains on the teeth and leads to a prolonged acidic environment in the mouth (13, 19).

Swapping out processed starchy foods, like white bread and potato chips, for more nutrient-dense carb sources, like whole fruits, sweet potatoes, and whole grains, may help improve your oral health.

Summary

Eating refined carbs and starchy snack foods, like potato chips, may increase your risk of cavities. Cutting back on these foods may help protect your teeth.

Even though 100% fruit juice contains an abundance of important nutrients, drinking it too often may not be healthy for your teeth.

Fruit juices are acidic and can erode tooth enamel. This is especially true of more acidic types, like grape, orange, apple, and lemon juice.

A 2016 review of 13 studies that included a total of 16,661 children ages 8–19 found that the more acidic fruit juice children reported drinking regularly, the more likely they were to have tooth erosion (20).

Fruit pops made with acidic fruit juices, plus added sugar, can also damage the teeth.

One German study from 2016 found that apple and orange juices were five times more erosive to cattle tooth samples than the soft drink Coca-Cola light (21).

A 2019 study found that ice pops made with grape, pineapple, and orange juice caused the greatest drop in salivary pH compared with refrigerated and room temperature juices.

In other words, the ice pops were more acidic and therefore more destructive to teeth than liquid juices (22).

Swirling or holding juices or juice pops in your mouth prolongs acid exposure, further damaging teeth. Eating frozen fruit pops is considered highly destructive to teeth and should be avoided for optimal oral health (22).

Summary

Sipping on acidic fruit juices or sucking on fruit-based ice pops can lead to erosion and increase the risk of cavities. Ice pops prolong acid exposure to the teeth, and experts consider them highly damaging to oral health.

Alcoholic beverages, especially drinks made with added sugar and acidic ingredients, are not good for dental health.

Alcohol use is considered an important risk factor for oral cancer because it affects the permeability of the lining of the mouth, making it more vulnerable to potential cancer-promoting substances (23).

In fact, studies have shown that increased alcohol intake is associated with a greater risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx (24).

What’s more, alcohol may cause dry mouth, increase acidity in the mouth, increase cravings for highly palatable, processed foods, and change the balance of oral bacteria, all of which may cause tooth damage (23, 25).

Studies show that people with alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk of developing cavities, gum disease, and gum lesions (23).

Plus, people with alcohol use disorder may be less likely to seek regular dental care, which can lead to dental issues (23).

If you drink, do so in moderation and limit drinks made with added sugar and highly acidic ingredients.

Summary

Drinking too much alcohol may cause dry mouth, raise acidity in the mouth, increase cravings for highly palatable, processed foods, and change the balance of oral bacteria, all of which may negatively affect dental health.

Some foods may increase the chances of chipping a tooth or pulling out a filling.

For example, crunching on hard foods, like hard pretzels or hard candies, may cause you to chip a tooth (26).

A 2021 study that included 56 people found that eating hard foods was significantly related to the number of cracked teeth found in participants (26).

Chewing ice is a habit that may also contribute to cracked teeth (27).

Additionally, sticky candies like caramel and taffy can stick to teeth and may increase the chance of pulling out dental fillings.

Plus, sticky candies can increase the risk of dental erosion.

Summary

Crunching on hard foods may lead to cracked teeth, while chewing on sticky foods may cause you to pull out dental fillings.

Taking good care of your oral health means limiting or avoiding certain foods and beverages. Examples include:

  • soda
  • alcoholic beverages
  • acidic fruit-based ice pops
  • candy
  • sugary breakfast cereals

These foods and drinks may increase the risk of cavities, gum disease, chipped teeth, and even diseases like oral cancer.

To promote optimal oral health and protect your teeth, avoid or reduce your intake of the foods and beverages listed above. Instead, consider following a diet rich in nutritious whole foods.

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