Every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under an acid attack for up to an hour.

This is because the sugar will react with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produce harmful acids. So it is important to keep sugary foods only to mealtimes, limiting the amount of time your mouth is at risk.

FAQs

Why is a healthy diet important to my oral health?

Acidic food and drinks can be just as harmful to your teeth. The acid erodes the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make the teeth sensitive and unsightly.

A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh produce can help to prevent gum disease. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and cause bad breath.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay damages your teeth and leads to fillings or even extractions. Decay happens when sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque. This forms the acids that attack the teeth and destroy the enamel. After this happens many times, the tooth enamel may break down forming a hole or ‘cavity’ into the dentine. The tooth can then decay more quickly.

What foods can cause decay?

All sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms, for example, sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can damage your teeth.

Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping.

When you are reading the labels remember that ‘no added sugar’ does not necessarily mean that the product is sugar-free. It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above or the sugars may be listed as ‘carbohydrates’. Ask your dentist if you are unsure.

Can food and drinks cause erosion?

Acidic food and drinks can cause decay. The lower the pH number, the more acidic the product. Anything with a pH value lower than 5 may cause tooth erosion. ‘Alkali’ have a high pH number and neutralises the acid effects of sugars. pH7 is the middle figure between acid and alkali. Listed below are the pH values of some foods and drinks.

  • Mineral water (still) – pH 7.6
  • Milk – pH 6.9
  • Cheddar cheese – pH 5.9
  • Lager – pH 4.4
  • Orange juice – pH 3.8
  • Grapefruit – pH 3.3
  • Pickles – pH 3.2
  • Cola – pH 2.5
  • Red wine – pH 2.5
  • Vinegar – pH 2.0

Can I eat snacks?

It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat 3 meals a day instead of having 7 to 10 snack attacks. If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth, however, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount.

If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as cheese, raw vegetables, nuts and breadsticks.

Can I eat sweets?

The main point to remember is that it is not the amount of sugar you eat or drink, but how often you do it. Sweet foods are allowed, but it is important to keep them to mealtimes.

To help reduce tooth decay, cut down on how often you have sugary snacks and drinks and try to choose sugar-free varieties. Confectionery and chewing gum containing Xylitol may help reduce tooth decay.

Sugary foods can also contribute to a range of health problems including heart disease and being overweight.

What should I drink?

Still water and milk are good choices. It is better for your teeth if you drink fruit juices at mealtimes. If you are drinking them between meals, try diluting them with water.

Diluted sugar-free squashes are the safest alternative to water and milk. If you make squash or cordial, be sure that the drink is diluted from 1 part cordial to 10 parts water. Some soft drinks contain sweeteners that are not suitable for young children – ask your dentist or health visitor if you are not sure.

Fizzy drinks can increase the risk of dental problems. The sugar can cause decay, and the acid in both normal and diet drinks can dissolve the enamel on the teeth. The risk is higher when you have these drinks between meals.

Should I brush my teeth after every meal?

You must brush your teeth twice a day with toothpaste containing fluoride. The best times are before breakfast and last thing at night before you go to bed.

Eating and drinking naturally weaken the enamel on your teeth, and brushing straight afterwards can cause tiny particles of enamel to be brushed away. It is best not to brush your teeth until at least one hour after eating.

It is especially important to brush before bed. This is because the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s cleaning system, slows down during the night and this leaves the mouth more at risk from decay.

Does chewing gum help?

Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking. It has been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore, may damage your teeth.

What is fluoride?

Fluoride is a natural mineral that is found in water. The amount of fluoride in the water varies from area to area.

What are the benefits of fluoride?

Fluoride has been researched for over 50 years and water fluoridation has been proven to cut dental decay by 40 to 60%. Fluoride is present in many different natural sources, but can also be artificially added to our drinking water. A level of one part in a million is most effective. Fluoride can greatly help dental health by strengthening the tooth enamel, making it more resistant to tooth decay. Many kinds of toothpaste now contain fluoride, and this is how most people get their fluoride.

Where can I find fluoride?

All water contains fluoride. Your local water supplier or health authority should be able to tell you how much fluoride is in the water in your area. One part of fluoride for every million parts of water (1ppm) is considered enough Fluoride also comes in specially formulated gels, drops, tablets or mouthwashes which are recommended for those people who need added protection.

Fluoride is also in salt and tea, and some countries artificially add fluoride to their table salt and milk.

Is it in my water supply?

Possibly. However, only around 10% of the UK population’s water supply – mainly the Midlands and the North East has water fluoridisation. The exact amount depends on which area you live in. Your dentist or health authority should be able to tell you whether your water supply is fluoridated

Should children have extra fluoride?

Many areas have enough fluoride in the water to help fight tooth decay. However, where the level of the water supply is low, it is sometimes necessary for children to take extra fluoride in the form of supplements. It is extremely important that these are only taken on the advice and instruction of a dentist.

What are the side effects?

Dental fluorosis can occur when too much fluoride is taken. This can happen for example when the water supply is already fluoridated and supplements are taken, or when children ‘eat’ toothpaste. Campaigners against fluoridation claim that an overdose of fluoride can sometimes cause ‘brittle bone’ disease and digestive disorders, but these suggestions have not been scientifically proven.

What is fluorosis?

Enamel fluorosis is a result of too much fluoride, absorbed while the enamel of the teeth is forming. Severe fluorosis may lead to pitting of the enamel and discolouration. However, severe fluorosis is rare in the UK.

In its mildest form, fluorosis appears as very fine pearly white lines or flecking on the surface of the teeth. This mild fluorosis is often undetectable except by a dental professional.

Is fluoride safe?

Many reports have been published about the pros and cons of fluoride. After many years the scientific conclusion is that fluoride is of great benefit to dental health and helps to reduce decay while causing no harmful side effects to general health.

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