Foods & drinks that can damage your teeth
... and how to minimize the damage
An overview of foods that can attack your tooth enamel and reduce the strength of your teeth, incl. suggestions how to minimize the damage.
For the reasons why the intake of the below-mentioned foodstuffs should be minimized or avoided to maintain tooth enamel strength see for instance the background information given in Dr. Herbert Shelton on the real reasons for tooth decay (caries) and related pages.
These are some of the foodstuffs and dietary practices which raise a small or large red flag for teeth.
Refined and processed food such as
- white flour
- cooked starches
Refined sugar (sucrose or table sugar) and similar sugars considered dangerous for teeth (such as glucose, fructose, lactose) are highly fermentable mono- or disaccharides which cariogenic mouth bacteria can quickly metabolize and turn into acids.
Sugar of course is hidden in numerous unexpected foodstuffs such as baked beans, salad dressings, deli meats, cream substitutes, bottled juices, ketchup etc. (foods with less than 1% sugar content however, are considered non-cariogenic).
Sugar frequently hides under "foreign" hard-to-identify names (for a long list of sugar "pseudonyms", see Cariogenic Sugar & Its Many Guises: How to recognize hidden sugars).
It also matters when the sugary food is eaten. This was determined over a number of years in unethical human experiments performed on patients of Vipeholm Mental Hospital in Lund, Sweden (1940s to 1950s). These non-voluntary human guinea pigs were given four meals a day containing a total of 350g of carbohydrates (of which 90g were sugar), but no snacks. Later, a control group additionally received sticky sugary snacks to eat between meals over the course of the day.
The results were clear: only those who snacked on sweets in-between meals developed significant new tooth decay (in contrast to the very slow progression observed on the no-snacks diet), proving that carbohydrates ingested as part of the main meal do not cause caries (at least not in any significant manner).
Interestingly, a study done at New York University arrived at the conclusion that chocolate is better for teeth than products made of cooked starch (such as potatoes). The researchers determined how long carbohydrates would stay in the mouth after ingestion and how much acid was produced from them.
They found that cooked starches were broken down into glucose over a longer period of time than for instance sweets. In other words, the subsequent fermentation into lactic acid by oral bacteria will go on longer as well. This means that foods containing cooked starches are thought to stimulate acid production in the mouth more vigorously than very sugary foods and are thus a greater threat in terms of tooth decay.
Considering however that people in developing countries found to have no or little tooth decay (until sugar is introduced to them) traditionally eat many starchy (but "whole") foods, it might appear that sugar is the major culprit after all - unless it is the fact that Western "industrialised" diets generally lack the proper mineral spectrum due to industrial farming methods while those who live on less impoverished (richer and properly balanced) soils might be better protected thanks to the rich mineral and trace element content of their food.
Last but far from least: Drs. Steinman & Leonora found in decades-long research that meals high in sugar (> 60%) lead to a reversal in dentinal fluid transport - a natural way that teeth defend themselves against outside attack, and that this effect of sugar transpires via systemic pathways (i.e. even sugar injected directly into the bloodstream will have this effect).
This may also partially explain why the above-mentioned group receiving sugary snacks developed significant new tooth decay - sugary snacks typically have a very high concentration of sugar leading to "instant" reversal in dentinal fluid flow which renders the teeth defenseless against attack.
(Incidentally, Drs. Steinman & Leonora also determined the highly significant fact that sugar and similarly "cariogenic" foods do not produce more bacterial acids in the mouth than healthy food.)
- vinegar and pickled foods
- sour fruits (oranges and other citrus fruit)
- unripe fruit
- fruit juices
Interestingly and perhaps surprisingly, even table wines are acidic (generally speaking, they have a pH between 3.3 and 3.7), while the pH of table vinegar varies between 2.4 and 3.4.
Concentrated natural sugars such as
- dried fruit
- syrups made from fruit, grains etc.
The reason why the intake of refined and processed foodstuffs such as sugar and white flour as well as acidic foods such as vinegar and sour fruits should be minimized or avoided to maintain tooth enamel strength, in a nutshell lies in the following:
In addition to the above-mentioned important factor related to dentinal fluid transport or the tooth's ability for self-defense, three factors, one structural, one nutritional, one bacterial, seem to form the basis of tooth decay: structural weakness of teeth (due to insufficient mineralization = lack of minerals), lack of nutritional factors required for tooth health, and attack by acids leaching out calcium.
Acids stem from acidic foodstuffs but particularly are a byproduct of bacterial decomposition of food rests incl. highly concentrated natural sugars (as found in dried fruit etc.).
Hence the overriding importance of cleaning and flushing out any and all food rests, and more particularly the prevention of plaque deposits (where germs colonize) (compare Dental Care and Oral Hygiene).
Important note: while it is true that "normal" sugar is a highly cariogenic (tooth-decay-causing) substance, it is equally true (and highly surprising and welcome) that there is (at least) one naturally occurring sugar that frequently has the opposite (anti-cariogenic/cariostatic) effect. See Xylitol, the dental miracle sugar. Also see Tooth-friendly non-toxic sugar replacements (there are a number of them).
Foods lacking a full complement and balanced spectrum of minerals and trace elements
For background, see On the importance of minerals and trace elements.
Foods containing phytic acid
Extremely hard as well as icy foods
Depending on the breaking strength of your teeth, you may wish to be careful with hard items such as certain kernels and ice.
Raw food = healthy?
Interestingly, according to Frédéric Patenaude (an article by him on this site is Assimilable calcium from greens), a scientific study conducted in Germany on the health of raw-foodists showed that this section of the population develops more cavities and dental erosion than "normal" people, an observation confirmed by raw-food leaders/authors who noted that the dental health status of those adhering to a raw food diet is indeed deplorable.
The reasons are not to do with raw food being damaging per se but with unwise food choices of raw foodists who tend to overindulge in dried fruits, acid fruit, dehydrated food etc. while "underindulging" for instance in calcium-rich greens.
In my personal experience, teeth weakening (i.e. structural damage) can also be induced by eating for instance mostly whole-grain noodles for a while, or radical prolonged fasting (such as 14 days) without adequate amounts of water. (On the other hand, properly conducted, fasting can induce dental and gum improvements and heal cavities and toothache.)
So it would seem advisable to aim for a varied diet and (digestive capacity permitting) to go heavy on raw organic foods and seaweed (see "Generally important" further down).
Suggestions how to minimize the damage from ingestion of the above food items
Apart from strict avoidance which demands a lot of discipline and may not be invariably wise (for instance apple cider vinegar apparently shows astounding health benefits when regularly consumed), here are several immediate ways to contain any damage to enamel:
- Rinse your mouth well after eating acidic or sticky food.
- Add xylitol to acidic fruit and drinks.
- Drink acidic drinks through a straw.
- When ingesting apple cider vinegar and water (and possibly honey) as a health drink, add baking soda to neutralize the acid (raise its pH to tooth-friendly levels).
- Rinse with an alkalinizing baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) solution afterwards.
- Rinse your mouth with (alkalinizing) (sea) salt.
- "Rinse" your mouth with xylitol after (and before) meals or use pure xylitol chewing gums (more expensive).
- Thoroughly chew a stick of celery, a carrot, some green leaves etc. after "sinning". This helps to clean the teeth. It is also an excellent practice to adopt for one's last meal of the day in case it contained any tooth-unfriendly items.
- Eat and thoroughly chew something salty after a meal (if you eat dairy, cheese apparently is one of the most tooth-friendly items to eat).
- Brush teeth after meals but not immediately after ingestion of acidulous items (otherwise you are likely to scrape off precious minerals such as calcium from your somewhat softened enamel).
- Chew on Mastic gum (resin), an outstanding natural chewing gum alternative and saliva stimulator, jaw exerciser, gum helper, breath freshener, bacterial plaque fighter and tooth whitener which additionally provides unique medical benefits.
- Get yourself some "chewing sticks" (see Natural toothbrush alternatives) and chew on them after meals.
- Rinse your mouth with (herb-based) disinfectants or with special mouthwashes containing enamel-repairing hydroxyapatite.
- Use an oral irrigator (waterpic etc.) or simply thoroughly slosh water in your mouth.
- Chew some chlorella (or spirulina) after "sinning".
More tips for avoiding damage to your teeth such as by checking for "coated" teeth in the day at General recommendations and advice re oral cleansing.
Follow a varied tooth-friendly, mineral-rich diet to the extent possible and go heavy on raw organic foods and seaweed while making sure your food agrees with you. To allow better/proper absorption, chew well, only eat when hungry and in a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere.
You also may wish to do internal cleanses such as liver, gallbladder and colon cleanses and if you feel drawn to it, work on your body's energy system to keep your juices "flowing" (I recommend EFT, Donna Eden's Energy Medicine books, and spiritual-energetic approaches such as Falun Gong and others).
Try to "compensate" any damage done to your teeth by regularly ingesting "superfoods"/natural supplements rich in trace elements and/or tooth-friendly alkalinising minerals. And make sure of course your vitamin D (plus concomitant vitamin K2 and A) levels are "up".
1 A discussion of more possible reasons speaking against indulging a sweet tooth using conventional sugar eg at Sugar’s Health Effects, Risks & Problems: Is Sugar Sweet Poison?, Sugar and Cancer and Sugar—A Silent Killer: An Extensive Discussion of the Sugars.
4 Compare Dr. Nara on Nutrition, immune system, tooth decay and gum problems, Emotions and tooth decay and Meditation for stress reduction benefits teeth and gums by triggering tooth-friendly salivary changes.
5 See Dental Care & Oral Hygiene.
6 For inexpensive sources compare for instance Mineral- and trace-element-rich foods. Also see Products for remineralizing teeth and enamel, reducing cavities and sensitivity.
8 For more details, compare for instance Tooth demineralisation - remineralisation, Dental glossary: toothache, dental and gingival pain and Dr. Herbert Shelton on the true causes of tooth decay.
9 Also compare Phytic acid in seeds, nuts, beans and grains and food mineral availability to see why whole-grain noodles can induce tooth weakening.
10 See Chlorella growth factor.
11 For details see Dentinal fluid transport - revolutionary theory of natural caries resistance and cariogenesis: research by Drs. Steinman & Leonora posits the precedence of host resistance over bacteria as primary cause of tooth decay.