Taking care of your teeth is important, especially if you lie to your dentist about flossing. Which everyone does... except me. I floss all the time, I swear!
That's why my longtime dentist Juli Powell was kind enough to share her expertise on which foods are the worst for your teeth. It's obvious that candy isn't great for you, and also that eating it in moderation won't call forth the cavity monster (especially if you brush afterwards). But did you know that sour foods are worse than sugary ones? Read on to learn which 10 foods do the most damage, and why. Your dentist will thank you.
"Carbs are really sugars. Your saliva has an enzyme called salivary amylase that can start the digestion process in your mouth, turning complex carbohydrates into sugar. If you're snacking on crackers all day, you're constantly keeping sugar in your mouth.
But the only reason sugar is bad is because the bacteria you have in your mouth eats the sugar and creates acid. If you had absolutely no plaque (which is impossible!), then there wouldn't be anything to break down sugars to create acids and cause decay."
"Saliva is one of your first defenses to dilute plaque and acids. It also has anti-bacterial properties. Anything that's drying your mouth is bad, and people who drink a lot of alcohol have very dry mouths. A little bit isn't bad, but if you already suffer from dry mouth, a drink or two is going to make it worse."
"Chewing ice is not a good idea. Ice is so hard! We do a crown once or twice a year for someone who bit into ice. It's like biting into a rock. If you have large, old fillings, you could easily break a tooth. The coldness can also make your teeth slightly more brittle. It's just a physics thing. Your mouth is warm. If you put this cold, rigid thing in there and bite on it, it's bad for your teeth."
7. Dried fruit
"We like dried fruit! We're not saying throw it all out, but it has the same amount of sugar as fruit that hasn't been dried, plus it's sticky and staying on your teeth. If you're eating it all day and not brushing, you could see some serious decay."
"Sour candy is worse than sweet candy, because sour candy has just as much sugar, plus they've usually added citric acid. It's also harder on teeth because it stays on there longer. Sour, sticky, and candy are the trifecta of bad stuff for your teeth."
5. Sports and energy drinks
"These are really tough on teeth. They do more acid damage than soda. Sports drinks first, energy drinks second, soda third. It depends on the type of sports drink; some have more citric acid than others. The tests I've seen are on the lemon-lime ones.
Plus, they also have a high amount of sugar. Water is still the most awesome thing on the planet, especially straight out of the tap, due to the fluoride."
4. Sugary soda
"Soda is horrible. It has sugar and both phosphoric and citric acids. They break down the surface of your teeth, so you're washing them with acid. And the sugars feed the bacteria, which gives you more acids later.
Also, sipping is worse than just sucking it down. You're constantly keeping that low pH in your mouth. If you're going to drink it, you're better off chugging it than sitting with it for a longer time."
"My partner Ada Tiller and I are data girls, and from what we've seen, there isn't data to show that kombucha does what it says, especially if it's pasteurized. Its pH is really low. Anything less than 7 is acidic -- kombucha is 2.5. Straight lemons are 2. If you're drinking it daily, and especially if you're cavity prone, it's likely to be a problem."
"The pH of straight lemons is 2. If you suck on lemons or limes with your front teeth, the enamel comes off the front surface of the tooth. They'll look really yellow and get sensitive."
1. Whatever you just ate, on the way back up
"The worst thing you can do is vomit or have acid reflux. It's so bad that we can usually tell if someone's bulimic just from looking. We'd never want that to keep someone from coming to the dentist, but it erodes the insides of people's teeth in a [specific] pattern. The only way to do so much damage is from refluxing or vomiting all the time. Since that food is already digested, you're essentially giving your teeth a pure acid wash."
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He was totally lying earlier about flossing, but promises to do better. Follow him to a cavity-free smile at @Dannosphere.