Plus dentist-approved tips for counteracting them.

By Betty Gold
Updated January 23, 2020
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Want to spend less time in that reclining chair? According to Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, a New York-based orthodontist and co-founder of Beam Street, the list of foods that are less than great for our dental health goes far beyond Coca-Cola and caramels. In fact, some of the most popular health foods today could be wreaking havoc on your enamel, potential for cavities, and overall oral health.

According to Dr. Kunen, these are the top six seemingly healthy foods that put your pearly whites at risk, as well as the steps to take to better protect your teeth.

1

“When it comes to the consumption of any alcoholic beverage, the biggest concerns I have as a dentist are related to the sugar content of the drink, as well as the dry-mouth side effect of the alcohol itself,” says Dr. Kunen. Many alcoholic drinks have a heavy sugar content, and when this is combined with the drying-out effect of alcohol, a perfect storm for the development of cavities is created.

With the general modern trend towards wellness and natural ingredients, better alcoholic product options are hitting the market for both oral and general health. Hard seltzer drinks are a prime example and were hugely popular drink last summer. This is good: as far as alcoholic beverages go, sparkling seltzers (like White Claw) have relatively clean ingredients and a somewhat low sugar content.

That said, according to Dr. Kunen, all carbonated beverages have been shown to decrease pH levels in the mouth. This creates a more acidic oral environment and makes enamel more vulnerable to wear and attack by bacteria. Additionally, all alcoholic drinks dry out the mouth and hinder an ideal salivary flow, thus preventing a healthy stream of nutrients to oral tissues and making teeth more vulnerable to cavity development as well.

Dr. Kunen says that the best way to prevent the oral consequences from these alcoholic drinks is to make sure to stay hydrated while drinking (alternate a glass of water with each glass of alcohol) and to rinse out your mouth with water after you have finished your drink.

RELATED: You're Probably Brushing Your Teeth Wrong—Try These Dentist-Approved Tips for a Better Smile

2

Festive fall and winter favorites like hot cider, mulled wine, and pumpkin spice lattes contain a very high sugar content and are also typically sipped slowly over a long period of time. According to Dr. Kunen, each time a sweet beverage is consumed, the acidity inside your mouth rises—in addition to the obvious increased oral sugar concentration that coats your teeth. After each sip of any beverage containing sugar, alcohol, or caffeine, the pH in the mouth drops for about 20 minutes. When oral acidity increases, the enamel on your teeth softens and becomes more vulnerable to wear, erosion, and bacterial invasion. The added increased sugar concentration creates the perfect storm for the development of cavities.

“The best way to responsibly consume these seasonable beverages is to sip them somewhat quickly and to rinse out your mouth after consumption,” says Dr. Kunen. “And whatever you do, do NOT brush your teeth after drinking them—any softened enamel will be removed from tooth surfaces.” A simple rinse with water will adequately cleanse the mouth without a consequence to the integrity of the tooth’s structure.

3

Kombucha tea has become a huge health trend over the past few years. The fermented tea drink is seriously good for you: it contains the antioxidants of tea as well as probiotics to aid in gut health and ease inflammation. According to Dr. Kunen, while kombucha does provide strong health benefits, it can be very damaging to your oral health. “The fermented, fizzy tea is extremely acidic,” she explains. “Kombucha must be kept at a pH below 3.5 in order to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. As a point of reference, water has a neutral pH of 7, and anything below that neutral number of 7 is considered to be acidic. The high acidity of kombucha can cause significant erosion of enamel, which is the hard substance that covers teeth and protects it from insults like bacteria.” Enamel is also the substance that keeps teeth looking white.

“While I would never discourage the consumption of kombucha altogether, it is important to be mindful of its potentially harmful dental effects and how to properly combat them.” The best way to enjoy kombucha and protect your enamel is to drink it quickly and to rinse with water after you’re finished. A prolonged period of decreased pH in the mouth leaves a larger window for enamel to be eroded as well as to become susceptible to invading bacteria. To help clear your mouth of the imposed acidity, make sure to rinse thoroughly with water to restore a neutral pH. And again: never brush your teeth after consuming an acidic substance, as softened enamel will be brushed away. Rinse gently with water only.

4

Another recent healthy food trend: turmeric. The spice is a proven anti-inflammatory agent and is wonderful for overall health. “Turmeric has strong antioxidant effects, and I would never discourage its consumption. However, it is important to note that it is a highly pigmented spice and can yellow teeth over time.” EEK.

The best way to enjoy turmeric’s advantageous effects without the consequence of stained teeth is to rinse your mouth thoroughly with water after you eat or drink anything that contains it.

5

Social media has had a huge impact on various markets, and the health industry is no exception. A rising trend that has been born from social media is the consumption of gummy vitamins that claim to lead to thicker hair, nails, improved sleep, higher energy, and more. “If the actual content of these supplements is examined, most of them contain very standard vitamins easily found in the drugstore, but they are marketed in such a way as to seem innovative and more appealing,” says Dr. Kunen. “Most of these supplements don’t pose any real health risks, but when they are sold in the form of a gummy, it is important to realize that there is an increased sugar content that can increase the propensity for cavities.”

If you are someone who prefers to take vitamins in (a more delicious) gummy form, just remember to rinse your mouth after chewing them to remove the sticky sugar residue from tooth surfaces.