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You Are What You Eat. (And So Are Your Teeth.)

What you eat has a tremendous impact on your teeth, both in terms of potential damage and contributing to their long-term health.

Biting an appleSince you were a kid, you’ve likely been told to avoid sweets, because they can cause cavities.  That’s true–but there’s a little more to the story.

Sugars and starches trigger the acid-creating bacteria in plaque, and the acids they produce can start attacking your teeth in as little as 20 minutes.  However, it’s not just if you eat sweets and starches that matter–it’s when.

If you limit your sweets and starches to having them with meals, they do less harm, because you’re producing more saliva–which helps remove them.  Also, drinking water (instead of sipping sweetened beverages) throughout the day also has the benefit of helping wash away acid-producing residue.  Even chewing sugarless gum–which promotes the production of saliva–helps.

When you do snack, choose foods that are nutritious.  Cheese, nuts, milk, and chicken can actually help restore your teeth by providing extra calcium and minerals.  Crunchy fruits like apples and pears have a high water content, which dilutes the sugars, and their texture helps scrape food off the tooth surface.

Acidic foods like citrus or tomatoes should also be eaten with meals rather than snacks.

And be careful of food descriptions like “no sugar added” or “sugar free,” which may simply mean that no additional sugar was used to process the food, but it still may contain other natural sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.  (Look for ingredients that contain “-ose,” like “fructose,” “sucrose,” or “dextrose,” which indicate that sweeteners were added.)  Artificial sweeteners aren’t processed by bacteria to form acid, so these are viable substitutes.

So what you eat–and the timing of when you eat certain foods–can make a big difference in your dental health.

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