While it may be obvious that certain foods and drinks are bad for your teeth, like candy and soda, there are other less obvious options that can also be harmful to your oral health. Although some might advise avoiding these problem foods altogether, dentists generally argue in favor of moderation and good oral hygiene.
“I don’t feel bad about having ice cream or chocolate every once in a while because I brush my teeth and I floss every day, so I know I’m removing plaque properly,” says Ana Paula Ferraz-Dougherty, DDS, a dentist in San Antonio, Texas, and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA).
Whether you want to avoid them entirely or reduce your consumption to help protect your teeth, here are eight surprising foods and drinks dentists try to limit.
While it’s fine to put ice in your drink, make sure you don’t chew on it. “Avoid doing anything that would result in trauma to the tooth, such as chewing ice, as it fractures enamel,” says Van Himel, DDS, an endodontist, head of the department of endodontics, and a professor at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry in New Orleans.
When it comes to sports drinks, it’s all about how often you drink them. “If you drink these every day, you’re more likely to develop cavities because they’re acidic — and often high in sugar,” says Dr. Ferraz-Dougherty.
Like sports drinks, energy drinks also contain a lot of sugar that can harm your teeth — so drink them in moderation.
“The sour flavor in these candies is created by adding acid to them,” says Clara M.Spatafore, DDS, MS, chair of the department of endodontics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Your teeth get a double whammy with sour gummy candies: Not only is the sugary coating damaging your enamel, but the gummy nature of the treat means it sticks around on your teeth longer.
Dried fruit is also in the sticky-and-harmful category, according to the ADA, so it’s best to limit your consumption.
Flavored Coffee Creamer
Unsweetened coffee and tea are healthy options for most people, Ferraz-Dougherty says. But when you add sugar, syrup, or flavored creamers, you’re turning it into an unhealthy drink. “The problem is that if you’re having one, two, or three cups of coffee a day and adding these sweeteners to each cup, it becomes really damaging to your teeth,” she says. If you do drink sweetened coffee or tea, chase it with a cup of water to rinse your teeth.
The occasional glass of wine or beer is no problem, but drinking alcohol frequently and in excess can dry out your mouth, Ferraz-Dougherty says. “When your mouth is dry, over time your saliva flow is reduced, and dry mouth puts you at a higher risk for cavities and gum disease,” she explains. What’s more, excess alcohol consumption is tied to oral cancer over the long run, according to the ADA.
“What’s bad about popcorn are the kernels that don’t pop,” Dr. Spatafore says. “They can break a tooth.” But you don’t have to pass on the popcorn completely, she says. Just be sure to leave the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bucket. The ADA recommends avoiding chewing on these types of hard objects to reduce your chances of a dental emergency.
Squeezing some fresh lemon into your water or club soda is fine — just avoid sucking on the lemon wedge. “Any type of citrus you suck on is bad for tooth enamel,” Spatafore says. The ADA points out that not only are citrus juices potentially damaging for your teeth, but the acid in the juice can make any sores in your mouth more painful.
Protein bars have a surprising amount of sugar in them, Spatafore says. She recommends avoiding them altogether, as there are better ways to get protein.
If you do decide to eat a protein bar, try chasing it with some water or chewing some sugar-free gum afterwards to help remove excess sugar from your teeth, the ADA recommends.