13 Foods That Are Worse for Your Teeth Than Candy
You could be sabotaging your beautiful smile without even knowing it. Here are the foods—other than candy—that dentists want you to avoid.
The worst foods for your teeth
Candy has a reputation for being bad for your teeth, but it’s not the only food capable of ruining your pearly whites. Everything from your favorite grocery store staples to your daily cup of Joe could put your teeth in jeopardy. In addition to keeping up with good teeth hygiene, try your best to limit these foods.
“Dried fruit is really like eating candy,” says Stephen J. Stefanac, DDS, professor of oral medicine and periodontics at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. “It has that stickiness and high sugar content.” That means that sugar gets stuck between your teeth—the perfect formula for cavities. Skip the dried variety and opt for fresh fruits instead. (Find out the answers to 13 questions you’re too afraid to ask your dentist.)
It probably comes as no surprise that soda is not great for your teeth. A 12-ounce can of soda has a whopping 39 grams of sugar—that’s almost ten teaspoons. But that’s not the only problem. “It’s very acidic,” says Tricia Quartey, DMD, a dentist in Brooklyn, New York. “And acid can break down the enamel.” The worst is if you sip soda all day long, because it increases your teeth’s exposure to the sugar and acid. Check out the only toothpastes these dentists use.
Like soda, bottled juice can be acidic and often contains added sugars, sometimes as much as ten teaspoons per serving. That sugar feeds bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. But at least one dentist likes a surprising alternative: apple juice. “There’s usually no added sugars in apple juice,” says Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, director of pediatric dentistry at Yale–New Haven Hospital. Dr. Rodriguez suggests watering down apple juice to decrease the natural sugar further or making other juices yourself at home.
Tomatoes are healthy, but they’re also acidic: “Eating tomato sauce with spaghetti doubles the damage to enamel,” says Dr. Quartey. The acidic sauce can break down the enamel on teeth, and the carbs in pasta help feed cavity-causing bacteria. Dr. Quartey recommends pasta with cheese instead. (Find out the 8 ways you’re brushing your teeth wrong.)
Apple cider vinegar
This vinegar has been touted for its potential health benefits, but you might not realize that its high acidity can erode tooth enamel in a hurry. Two dentists we spoke with have seen an increase in people with damaged teeth from drinking apple cider vinegar. If that’s a part of your regimen, always dilute it with water, drink it in one sitting, and rinse well afterward. (Follow these golden rules for white, healthy teeth.)
Coffee, tea, frappé
Coffee and tea may get you up and going, but they’re no friends to your teeth. Both are acidic and diuretic, which means they can dry out your mouth. “Saliva is nature’s buffering system to rinse everything,” Dr. Rodriguez explains. “When you run low, you’re more prone to cavities and gum disease.” And that frappé? It’s even worse because of all the added sugar. Good news: Swishing with water afterward will help protect your teeth.
Remember: Gummy vitamins or fiber supplements are still essentially a piece of candy. They contain sugar and are also squishy and sticky, which makes it easy for them to get stuck in your teeth and cause cavities. Protect your teeth by choosing vitamins you swallow, or at least chewables that crumble. (Straight from the dentists’ mouths: Never put any of these things in yours.)
First, hard chips can cut your gums, and as refined carbs, they’re essentially food for mouth bacteria to feed on. But the flavorings, which are often acidic, act like sandpaper on your teeth, Dr. Rodriguez says. And the more extreme the flavoring, the worse it is. Try plain air-popped popcorn instead or, better yet, some nuts.
As with gummy vitamins, you might not classify cough drops as candy, but that’s what they are to your teeth. Dr. Stefanac remembers a patient who had a lot of tooth decay because she was treating lozenges like medicine: “She was sucking on them all day.” Make sure you’re not picking up these 7 “healthy” habits that are bad for your teeth.
Beer, wine, hard liquor, and cocktails can all do a number on your teeth—especially if you like to nurse your drink. Research in PLoS One has found that beer erodes tooth enamel similarly to soda. As for wine, it could have more sugar than you think (a glass of sweet white can have up to eight grams). It’s the sugary cocktails you really have to watch: Besides the sugar, drinks with higher alcohol content can dry out your mouth, which can accelerate tooth decay. Check the USDA for the nutrient content of foods.
The hardness of ice is the culprit here: Chewing on ice can easily crack a tooth. “I see that a lot,” says Dr. Stefanac. “We often see it with people who have lots of fillings, which weakens the teeth. They bite on ice and snap off a portion of a tooth.” (Find out which 15 foods dentists never eat.)
Energy and sports drinks
Despite their healthy-sounding names, energy and sports drinks are packed with sugar and acids, a double whammy to your teeth, per research published in the World Journal of Stomatology. What’s more, many of them contain a special sticky substance to keep the coloring evenly distributed in the drink. As a result, the sugar and acid stay on your teeth longer. Opt for plain water instead. (Here are the other things energy drinks can do to your body.)
How can yogurt be bad for your teeth? If you have the plain kind, it’s not. After all, it contains probiotics and calcium, which are good for oral health. But many yogurts—even the Greek type—come with sweet fruit purees, adding a ton of sugar and acid to the mix. “You’re almost losing the benefits,” Dr. Rodriguez says. So add cut-up fresh fruit to plain yogurt instead. (Now check out 37 secrets your dentist won’t tell you.)
- Stephen J. Stefanac, DDS, professor of oral medicine and periodontics at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry
- Tricia Quartey, DMD, a dentist in Brooklyn, New York
- Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, director of pediatric dentistry at Yale–New Haven Hospital
- PLOS One: "Harmful Effect of Beer on Bovine Enamel Microhardness – In Vitro Study"
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "Dry mouth"
- National Institute on Aging: "Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "FoodData Central"