You plan meals, grab drinks, and play sports without giving much thought to your teeth. But you might not realize how food, beverages, and activities can wreck the health of your pearly whites. Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults over age 65 have lost all their teeth - here's how you can protect your own.
Sugar and Teeth
Sugar is the No. 1 enemy of your teeth, and the longer it stays in your mouth, the worse it is. Sugar is consumed by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. The acids eat away at tooth enamel. Avoid foods like jelly candies, which stick in your teeth longer than other foods and bathe them in sugar. Dried fruit such as raisins are no better. Reach for fresh fruit instead.
Beverages and Teeth
Soda is just plain bad for teeth, sugar-free or not. "You're bathing teeth in an acid environment," says Robert Sorin, DDS, clinical instructor in the department of dentistry and oral surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Club soda is harmful, too, because of its acidity, and so are juices with added sugar.
Alcohol, even just a glass of wine, is also acidic and can erode the teeth. In addition, alcohol dries out your mouth, reducing saliva production. "Saliva bathes the teeth and helps remove plaque and bacterial accumulations from the teeth's surface. Less plaque equals less risk for bacterial acids to cause decay," Sorin says. Rinse your mouth with water between drinks.
Other Risks to Teeth
If you use your teeth to snap off bottle caps, remove clothing tags, or open plastic bags, stop immediately. Smokers should also consider how the habit affects oral health. Nicotine yellows teeth and can also cause oral cancer. Chewing tobacco is even worse because the tobacco and associated carcinogens come into direct contact with the gums and soft tissues and stay there for a long time.
Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medicines might cause dry mouth. According to the American Dental Association, more than 500 medications -- from pain relievers to antihistamines -- can do so. Dry mouth inhibits saliva production and increases your risk of cavities.
If you play contact sports, pick up a mouth guard at a sports store or have your dentist make you a custom one for maximum protection and comfort.
You don't even have to be awake to damage your teeth. Sorin says as many as 8% of Americans grind or clench their teeth, especially at night. If this is you, make an appointment with your dentist right away.
Q&A on Chewing Ice
Q: "I started to chew ice 10 years ago because it is so soothing. Now I can't give it up. Is it really so bad for my teeth?"
Krystn Wagenberg, 51, producer, New York, N.Y.
A: "Yes, unfortunately. Chewing on ice, pens, pencils, and bobby pins can cause wear and tear on the tooth and enamel surfaces covering the tooth. If your teeth are worn or chipped already, the ice can crack and damage the tooth structure."
Robert Sorin, DDS clinical instructor, department of dentistry and oral surgery, New York-Presbyterian Hospital
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