What causes cavities? When you were a kid, you were probably told that the answer to that question was “candy.” That belief may have stuck with you into adulthood. Unfortunately, if that has led you to believe that avoiding candy will allow you to avoid cavities, you’re sorely mistaken. It turns out that there are plenty of different foods and drinks that can damage your teeth and increase your risk of decay — yes, even more so than candy.
As it turns out, sugar doesn’t cause tooth decay… at least, not directly. Cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar, and it’s their acidic waste that actually damages your teeth. That doesn’t mean that sugar isn’t dangerous, but it does mean that it isn’t the only thing that’s dangerous.
Acidic Foods and Drinks Eat Away at Enamel
If you’re eating and drinking acidic things, all you’re really doing is saving those cavity-causing bacteria some work! Highly acidic foods like citrus and drinks like soda, wine (both red and white), and coffee are super effective at wearing down your enamel, the only barrier between the sensitive inner material of your teeth and the harsh environment of the mouth.
Any food or drink with a pH below 5.0-5.7 can erode enamel when consumed regularly. This “dental erosion” is actually the most common chronic disease in children thanks to the popular perception of fruit juice as healthy. (Instead, fruit juice is often both acidic and packed with sugar, making it a double whammy when it comes to tooth damage.)
And for adults as well, experts believe the most common cause of dental erosion is drinks. Between soft drinks, alcohol, fruit juice, coffee, and wine, many of us are sipping on dental damage from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.
Protecting Your Enamel
Your enamel is the best defense your teeth have against decay, wear, and trauma. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s why protecting it should be a top priority in your dental health strategy.
The easiest way to reduce the effects of sugary and acidic foods and drinks is to stop consuming them. But for those who can’t live without their morning coffee, there are other steps you can take besides going cold turkey.
First, if you can’t cut it out entirely, reducing your intake of damaging food and drink is better than nothing. If you normally have three cups of coffee a day, try scaling back to one. And of course, your oral hygiene plays a huge role in the battle against cavities. Get that sugar (and the bacteria having it for lunch) off of your teeth with regular toothbrushing and flossing, and don’t forget to visit the dentist for your scheduled cleanings and checkups.