We all know that we should be eating a healthy balanced diet to help prevent unnecessary weight gain, obesity, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease (the risk of developing a heart attack). But did you know that what you eat can also have a profound effect on your smile? That’s right, if you don’t eat the right foods, or at the right time you could end up with unsightly teeth, gum disease and bad breath. And let’s face it, you’re never going to pull if your mouth smells like you’ve just finished rimming your dog.
Experts from the British Dental Foundation say that every time you consume anything that is sugary, your teeth will experience an ‘acid attack’ which can last for up to an hour. This is due to the sugar reacting with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on teeth). This reaction then produces harmful acids. For this reason it is advised to keep sugary foods to mealtimes, to reduce the amount of risk your mouth is at.
Tooth decay damages your teeth and can lead to fillings or extractions. When sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque, the acid that is formed attacks your teeth by destroying the enamel (the hard protective outer coating of the tooth). After repeated attacks, tooth enamel can break down causing a hole or ‘cavity’ to form into the dentine (found under the enamel, dentine makes up most of the tooth and can be sensitive to pain). This can then cause the rate of decay to speed up.
All sugars have the potential to cause decay. Many processed foods contain sugar, the higher it appears on the ingredients list, the more sugar there is in the product. It is important to note that a label saying ‘no added sugar’ does not mean that there is no sugar in this product, just simply that they have not added any. Many foods are high in natural sugars which are just as harmful.
Acidic food and drinks can cause decay. To the right is a list of products with their pH value, the lower the pH value, the more acidic the product. Items with a pH value of lower than 5.5 can cause dental decay. Products with higher values (maximum of 14) are known as alkalis, these work to neutralise the acidic effects of sugars. A pH of 7 is considered neutral as it is the half way point between acid and alkali.
Dentists advise no more than 3 meals a day to reduce the number of acid attacks on your teeth. However, it is understood that snacking during the day is likely to occur, and also, it is something that is recommended by nutritionists. So if you snack twice a day, try and choose foods that do not contain sugar. While fruits do contain acids which can erode your teeth we do not usually eat them in large enough quantities to be detrimental to your oral health. If you eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline afterwards such as raw vegetables, nuts or breadsticks.
As you can see from the table above, drinks such as cola and red wine are very bad for your teeth. The sugar can cause decay, while the acid in diet and regular fizzy drinks can cause erosion of the enamel. This risk is heightened if you consume them between meals. Drinking water or milk is a good sensible alternative that is also nutritionally sound. Sugar free chewing gum has also been noted to prevent tooth decay as chewing induces the production of saliva which helps to neutralise the acid.
The bacteria that coat your teeth can also release gasses that cause bad breath. Furthermore, bits of food can get caught on your tongue and in between your teeth which then rot and cause a bad smell. Regular brushing, twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride can help combat this.
Some foods such as coffee, tea and red wine can all cause your teeth to become stained and discoloured due to some of the chemicals in them such as tannins. Smoking can also result in the same outcome. So if you’re looking for that perfect Hollywood smile, there’s no need to fork out thousands for veneers, just be more careful with your food choices and don’t forget to look after your teeth!