Why health foods are destroying your teeth

Nutritional Advisor Elit Rowland unveils how five seemingly healthy diet choices can be contributing to enamel erosion and tooth decay.

Sugar-free alternatives
Sugar-free alternatives to soft drinks, sweets and gum may be tempting, but can damage teeth and lead to other health problems, according to a report published by The Guardian last year, which states: “Sugar-free gum, sweets and soft drinks, marketed as healthy alternatives to sugary products, can damage teeth, cause gastric problems and are unlikely to promote weight loss.”

It’s important to get to know the different kinds of sweeteners. Many have been shown to reduce the risk of tooth decay including xylitol, which has been approved as a tooth-friendly component of chewing gum by the European Union, according to the NHS website. The most commonly used sweeteners used by soft-drink giant Coca‑Cola are aspartame, acesulfame-K and saccharin, which have also been proven safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). If in doubt, read food and drink labels to make sure that your sweeteners are safe. Carbonated drinks - whether sugar-free or not – should be consumed in moderation due to their high acidity, which can erode tooth enamel.

  • Stick to chewing gum that is approved as tooth-kind
  • Read the label on sugar-free products
  • Limit carbonated soft drinks

Juices and smoothies
Apples may keep the doctor away, but they don’t do the same for the dentist. No matter how fresh they are, many fruits juices and smoothies can be acidic and anything with a PH lower that 5.5 may cause tooth decay. This includes orange juice (pH 3.8), grapefruit (pH 3.3), pineapple juice (pH 3.4), cranberry juice (pH 2.6) and even the lemon or vinegar on your salad (both pH 2.0). Stick to alkaline foods which have a high pH level and neutralise the acid effects of sugar. Good alkaline options include beetroot, celery, cucumber and spinach.

  • Try swapping fruit juice for blended vegetable options
  • Beetroot, carrot, celery is a delicious, low PH start to the day

Dried fruits
Snacking on dried apricots may be a tasty way to hit your five-a-day, but dried fruits contain concentrated amounts of natural sugars, which can stick to your teeth and cause tooth decay. If you want to reap the benefits of fruit, while reducing the damage to your teeth, stick to fresh options which are lower in sugar and enjoy them as part of a main meal. Tooth-friendly snacks include raw nuts and seeds or dried pulses such as soya beans and chickpeas.

  • Enjoy fresh fruit as part of a meal
  • Swap dried fruit snacks for raw nuts and seeds

Sparkling water
Drinking plenty of water is an important way of staying energised and hydrated, but not many people realise that carbonated water – a weak acid solution - contains carbon dioxide and if consumed regularly, can wear away the enamel on teeth. In fact, some experts warn that sparkling water, which has an acidic pH of around 3, can be as erosive to teeth as a sugary soft drink if exposed for a longer period.
Luckily, teeth can repair enamel erosion through a process called remineralisation, as long as they’re not constantly exposed to fizzy drinks. Dentists recommend drinking carbonated water through a straw to reduce exposure to teeth or drinking in big gulps, rather than small more frequent sips.

  • Limit intake of carbonated water and other carbonated soft drinks
  • Enjoy fizzy drinks in big gulps or through a straw

Healthy snacks
Many nutritionists believe that snacking on fruits and juices between meals is an important part of a healthy diet. Some dietitians believe eating smaller meals more frequently – also known as grazing - is better for the digestive system and metabolism, but this increased exposure to food could spell bad news for teeth.
Dentists suggest that by sticking with three meals a day, you can reduce your exposure to sugar and acid. If you must snack between meals, stick to low sugar options such as raw vegetables, nuts and cheese.  Maintaining a good level of oral hygiene, which includes brushing twice a day and regular flossing, is important in maintaining healthy teeth, no matter how ‘healthy’ you think your diet is.

  • Try and stick to three meals a day
  • Snack on low-sugar and low-acidity foods
  • Maintain good oral hygiene between meals