Teeth whitening may be considered a vain pursuit, but maintaining good dental health is totally necessary. Regular dentist visits and good brushing and flossing habits are important components of healthy tooth maintenance, but our choices can also impact our tooth health—namely, the things we choose to eat and drink. Avoiding sugary sodas and staining coffee goes without saying, but these foods and beverages fly a little more under the radar.
Worst: Citrus Fruits
Grapefruit, lemon, lime—while these vitamin C-packed fruits are certainly beneficial to your diet, their highly acidic properties have the unhappy byproduct of eroding tooth enamel over time. If you eat a grapefruit every morning or chug water with lemon each day, you may be at risk for future tooth problems as the erosion worsens. Combat the negative effects by drinking water immediately after, and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth.
Sugar in and of itself is a culprit of tooth decay, but the textures of certain candies may be doing you harm, too. Chewy candies stick to the teeth long after you’ve eaten them, where they can then mingle with the bacteria in our mouths to produce harmful acid that results in—you guessed it—cavities. Hard candies are equally damaging, as not only can biting down chip teeth, but the amount of time they take to dissolve in your mouth also gives bacteria ample time to mingle with the sugar and erode the teeth.
While red wine’s antioxidant benefits may leave you feeling even a bit virtuous as you sip, the pigmented substances and tannins that exist in the heart-healthy beverage go above and beyond to stain your teeth. While you may have already suspected this of red wine—after all, if you’ve ever caught yourself in the mirror after a glass or two and found your entire mouth stained purple, then you already knew—white wine can result in staining, too. Both red and white wines contain erosive fruit acids, which cause other substances to penetrate the teeth more deeply, even after you’ve finished your wine.
Worst: Refined Carbs
Sugar is notoriously terrible for your teeth, so it only makes sense that refined carbohydrates like bread, crackers, and pasta, which break down quickly into sugar, would have similar teeth-damaging repercussions. As with candy, bacteria then feeds on that sugar and produces acid, which causes enamel erosion and tooth decay.
Worst: Dried Fruits
Some fruits have notable tooth benefits, but dried fruit, on the other hand, does the opposite: Because there’s no water left, it’s super concentrated with sugar, and because dried fruits tend to have a sticky, chewy texture, sugar-hungry bacteria gets trapped between your teeth and stays there until the next time you brush.
Best: Sugarless Gum
The emphasis here is on sugarless gum, as chewing gum with sugar can actually increase your chances of cavities and tooth decay. Chewing on sugar-free gum after you eat helps to clean up harmful acid and pull bacteria out from between the teeth. Xylitol, an ingredient in most sugarless gums, has been proven to help to prevent decay, and it may even inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
Best: Leafy Vegetables
Leafy vegetables and greens are high in fiber because they require a lot of chewing, which generates saliva to clean your mouth and neutralize harmful acids, and the actual act of chewing helps to scrub bacteria and other food particles from the teeth.
Bright red strawberries might look like something that would stain your teeth, but they actually contain malic acid, which is a natural teeth whitener (and no, it’s not the same kind of acid that causes tooth erosion). You can even mash strawberries and use them as a teeth-whitening treatment when combined with baking soda.
Calcium is essential for healthy teeth, and milk is the number one dietary source of this must-have mineral. Calcium strengthens the bones as well as the teeth, which do in fact share some of the same components as bones. Dairy products, particularly cheese, also contain casein, a type of protein that works with calcium to repair and maintain healthy tooth enamel.
Any water at all is good for your teeth—it helps to rinse away sugars, bacteria, and other nasties that may be lingering in your mouth—but fluoridated water helps to protect against tooth erosion. Most tap water in the United States is fortified with fluoride, which occurs naturally in water, but some bottled waters may filter it out, so look specifically for those that contain the mineral.