Smart Snacking Helps Prevent Tooth Decay

Wouldn't it be great to know that you could enjoy candy, especially chocolate, without feeling guilty about the damage it could do to your teeth? Here is some information that will ease that guilt!

The bacteria that cause tooth decay must have food to create the acid necessary to break down your tooth's enamel. There are many factors that may contribute to tooth decay, but the length of time that food residues remain in contact with your teeth is probably the most important. What is the food made of and how often is it eaten?

Sugar is not so bad as we once thought because it can be cleared from the mouth by saliva very quickly. How fast foods clear from the mouth is an important consideration in snack selection. If food remains on a tooth for more than twenty minutes, the decay-causing bacteria can use the food to make enough acid to begin breakdown of the enamel. A little bit now and a little bit later, over and over again, will eventually result in a cavity.

Saliva plays a big part in removing food residues from teeth after you have eaten. Foods that are cleared completely from the mouth in less than twenty minutes are considered to be better snacks in terms of decay. Some foods are easily removed by saliva. White bread, raisins, apples, bananas, hot fudge sundaes, and chocolate ordinarily clear from teeth in one minute! Gummy bears and fruit roll ups clear within minutes. Like chewing gum, they stimulate the production of saliva too. A high flow of saliva helps to clear foods and keeps the oral environment less acidic.

Starches such as salted crackers, cookies, salted chips, and other foods that you may find stick to your teeth are foods to avoid unless you can brush soon after eating. Foods that remain on the tooth surface longer than twenty minutes should be avoided.

Look for sugarless gum sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol has been shown to reduce decay.

Juices should be saved for mealtime. If you read the side of a juice carton, you will find that it contains 100% sugar. Constant exposure of baby teeth to juices will cause decay. A piece of fruit would be a better choice.

The combination of acid and sugar in soft drinks will cause enamel breakdown. Read the label on a soft drink. You will find phosphoric acid and sugar. Lemon drinks and eating lemons often will cause enamel erosion (break down).

Combining fat and protein makes for a great snack for a child. Peanut butter is a good example of this combo. When the teeth are developing and erupting (coming in), foods high in calcium and phosphorus should be a big part of a child's diet. Cheese, milk, yogurt, broccoli with cheese, and fish are some foods high in calcium and phosphorus.

When the permanent teeth first erupt, the enamel is not completely calcified (hardened). The final phase of calcification occurs in the mouth. Milk, not juices and soft drinks, should be flowing over those brand new incisors (front teeth).

Now for the best news of all -- chocolate does not cause decay! The tannins in chocolate make the bacteria stick together instead of on the tooth surface. Chocolate is a source of magnesium and protein. A little plain chocolate will satisfy hunger longer and will clear from the teeth in less than a minute. Chocolate is a snack that both you and your teeth will love!

by Jane A. Soxman, DDS

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