What foods or drinks cause cavities? The answer from most people is simple sugar. But while sugar is a major cause of cavities, all carbohydrates can be a cause of cavities. That’s because carbohydrates contain sugars and starches, and when these stick to your teeth, they lead to tooth decay. And a cavity is what happens when a tooth decays. So when you are eating cereal, milk, bread, soda, fruits, cakes or candy, you are bathing your teeth in sugar.
What is the process that can turn that tasty piece of toast you had this morning into an eventual cavity? It’s a simple process that has five steps:
You eat or drink a food or beverage that contains carbohydrates (don’t forget, both sugar and starches are in this category).
Bacteria in your mouth digest these foods and turn them into acids.
The bacteria combines with acid, saliva and food debris to form plaque, which sticks to your teeth.
The plaque’s acids dissolve your teeth’s enamel surface.
As the enamel surface dissolves, small holes are created in the teeth and this is what is called a cavity.
Does that mean that you should completely avoid carbohydrates to reduce the chance of cavities? Not really, because the real problem isn’t the amount of starches or sugars you are bathing your teeth in from a particular food or beverage, but rather how long it stays on your teeth. As an example, foods that stick to the tops of your molars (in the back of your mouth) and don’t quickly dissolve are tough on your teeth. Foods like starchy chips and crackers or gummy candy are examples of these types of foods. Other foods that are major culprits are soda, juice and hard candies, since they douse your mouth with sugar over an extended period of time as you consume them.
How can you head off the five-step process that eventually leads to cavities in your teeth? Try these simple steps:
Drink water lots of water! Drink it every time you eat a meal or have a snack and make sure you vigorously swish it around in your mouth at the end of the meal. By doing this, you’re washing away the acids that formed and remove food debris.
Pop a piece of sugar-free gum in your mouth at the end of a meal. This will jump start the production of saliva, which is a natural teeth cleaner, and the act of chewing will also remove food debris from your teeth.
Skip super sticky foods that will stick to your teeth for hours.
Floss daily and brush twice a day.
Be sure to drink fluoridated water to strengthen your teeth.
Feed calcium-rich cheese to your kids and yourself. It’s a wonderful cavity-fighting snack because it stimulates the flow of saliva (a natural tooth cleaner) and neutralizes the mouth acids that wear away enamel.
Follow these tips and you can still enjoy carbohydrates while reducing the impact on your oral health.