Nobody wants to be told they have a cavity, and it’s frustrating for people who think they’re doing everything right to find out they need a filling. I think almost everybody learns when they’re young that cavities happen if you eat too much sugar, or you don’t brush your teeth. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, so in an effort to keep you from hearing that you need a filling, I’d like to talk about habits that real people have that cause cavities.
Almost everybody snacks occasionally. Some people snack constantly. Frequent snacking or “grazing” is not good for the teeth since they are continuously exposed to food and sugars that bacteria metabolize into acids. Snacks prevent teeth from being able to recover from the acid attack that occurs every time we eat. If you don’t snack between meals, your saliva can actually repair much of the acid damage. When you do snack, picking better snacks is important. The best snacks are low in sugars and not sticky. Celery, broccoli, carrots, cheese, yogurt, and nuts are ideal.
Breath Fresheners help keep the bad breath at bay, but many people think they’re giving themselves fresh breath when they are really giving themselves a mouthful of cavities with a bad habit. Breath fresheners must be sugar-free to be effective, otherwise they’ll feed the germs and actually make your breath worse in the long run. And if your “breath freshener” contains sugar, you’re likely to notice that you need another one about 20 minutes later. That’s because the sugar will kick the germs in your mouth into high gear, growing, making acid, and producing smelly sulferous compounds. So whether it’s Tic-tacs, Starlight Mints, Altoids, or Lifesavers, check first to make sure they’re sugar-free. Better yet, if they’re sweetened with Xylitol, they may help to prevent cavities!
Cough Drops are used by many people for temporary relief of a cough and by others because of chronic congestion. But most cough drops contain sugar and if used on an ongoing basis, are likely to cause cavities. If you are using cough drops for any more than a few days in a row, make sure you get the sugarless variety.
Chewing Gum can be your teeth’s best friend or worst enemy. Gum containing sugar is exceptionally bad for teeth. It seems the rubbery texture may circulate the sugars down into the little pits and fissures of the tooth and feed the germs that live in those grooves. But, sugarless gum actually reduces cavity risk by stimulating saliva production. If the gum is sweetened with Xylitol, it will also inhibit the germs and reduce cavity risk further.
Coffee and Tea are popular drinks with the caffeine it takes to keep us moving. Many people add sugar, creamer, honey, or flavorings to their beverages. The addictive potential of caffiene plus the cariogenicity of the sugars make this a dangerous habit for your teeth. Coffee and tea also tend to stain teeth, making them look brown or yellow. The superficial stains can be cleaned off when you have your teeth cleaned and deeper stains can be reduced by whitening.
Soft Drinks shouldn’t surprise anyone for being on this list of bad habits since they are one of the worst. Everyone knows that Mountain Dew will ruin your teeth if you drink enough of it, but it’s not much worst than other sugar-containing soft drinks. Mountain Dew gets a bad rap because it’s used as a coffee substitute by a huge number of young adults who may not get regular dental care. If you feel you must drink soda, you should make sure it’s a sugar-free variety for the sake of your teeth. There is, honestly, no good reason for anyone to be drinking any quantity of soft drinks since they have no redeeming nutritional value, and they may contribute to several general health problems.
Fruit Juice is considered by most people to be a healthy alternative to soft drinks. But fruit juices contain a substantial amount of sugar. Just because a sugar is all natural, doesn’t make it healthy for your teeth. Bears are the only animal that gets cavities in the wild due to their love of honey and berries. Apple juice is commonly given to toddlers as a healthy drink, but it actually has very little nutritional value for the numbers of calories and sugars it contains. General rule of thumb for kids: nothing to drink except for water in between meals. It’s better for their teeth and kinder on your carpeting at home.
Mixed Drinks are, for most people, just an occasional indulgence. But for people who tend to sip mixed drinks all evening after a long day at work, they can spell trouble. The alcohol found in those drinks is not able to kill enough germs to counteract the damage done by all the sugar.
Cavities are all about what happens on a daily basis. There’s a constant battle between the germs producing acid causing your teeth to dissolve and the remineralizing effect of your saliva. The habits you have can shift that equilibrium one way or the other. To protect your teeth, you should strive to be as totally sugar-free between meals as possible.
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