13 Foods Bad for Your Teeth that Dentists Never Eat
From popcorn to granola bars, these foods are bad for your teeth and can lead to tooth decay.
Foods bad for your teeth that dentist won’t eat
What you eat says a lot about your oral health. There are certain foods and drinks—especially those filled with sugar—that can cause problems. They can lead to a buildup of plaque (a sticky film of bacteria) that can stain your teeth, lead to tooth decay, and even gum disease. However, there are things you can do now, besides brushing your teeth and flossing, that will help prevent or reverse tooth issues. We spoke with dentists who share the foods they avoid to maintain good dental health.
Put down that bowl of microwave popcorn. “Countless number of people come in with cracked teeth from eating half-popped popcorn kernels, not to mention the sneaky husk,” says Jonathan Neman, DDS, in New York City. “Popcorn husk is notorious for finding its way in between teeth and causing gum pain, too.” (Also, check out the early signs of gum disease you’re probably ignoring.)
As tasty as those dried pineapples are and no matter how much you love that fiber boost from prunes, dried fruit is a disaster for teeth. “Not only are the sugars concentrated, but they are very sticky and sit into the grooves of your molars causing cavities,” explains Dr. Neman.
Sweet coffee drinks
Those large or extra-large cups of coffee with extra pumps of the sweet stuff are a dental nightmare. “Constant exposure to the milk and sugar over the course of an hour or more makes it difficult for the saliva to combat against the sugars and acids produced by the bacteria in our mouths,” Dr. Neman says. “Saliva is the great protector of our teeth, and with the constant sugar attacks from taking sips of sugary drinks, over time the salivary glands fail to keep up.” (This is what sugar does to your body.)
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and protein. But while they’re good for your overall health, like many seeds, they’re not good for your teeth. “Many seeds require cracking them open with your front teeth, easily causing chipping of the edges of your front teeth,” says Dr. Neman. (Find out 11 things your dentist wishes you’d do differently.)
You need to stop chewing ice as soon as possible because it’s destructive, says Jon Marashi, DDS, of Los Angeles. “Ice is simply too hard for tooth enamel and causes stress fractures in the teeth. It can even break a piece of your tooth.” (Find out about the surprising illnesses dentists find first.)
Sure, they give you a boost, but energy drinks can cause dehydration, raise your heart rate, and trigger headaches and mood swings. They’re also bad for your teeth. “Energy drinks are super acidic, and they have high sugar content. I’ve seen a rise in amounts of decay among college students who consume this in excess to stay up all night, whether studying or partying,” says Dr. Marashi. “It coats all the teeth and therefore affects all of them equally. You’ll end up with a mouth full of cavities!”
They may be one of your favorite movie snacks, but they’re far from healthy. “It’s surprising, but chocolate alone is less harmful than raisins. The sugar content is higher and the sticky raisins get stuck in the grooves of your teeth. The chocolate is just kerosene for the fire.” (Here are 7 signs of disease your teeth can reveal.)
“Athletic drinks were created to re-hydrate athletes and replenish lost nutrients and electrolytes,” says Krysta Manning, DMD and owner of Solstice Dental & Aesthetics in Louisville, Kentucky. “However, these health benefits often come with a heavy dose of sugars. Liquid sugars are notorious for causing cavities in hard to reach places and are even more detrimental when introduced into a dry oral environment.” Unless you’re a high-performance athlete, re-hydrate with plain old water. (Tired of drinking water? Check out the 10 most hydrating foods.)
PB & J
Peanut butter is a heart-healthy food with good fats, but that classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich from your childhood isn’t such a great idea for your mouth. “Each of the two ingredients is often laced with added sugar,” says Dr. Manning. “Add in the sticky texture and you’ve got a perfect recipe for cavities. If you’re going to enjoy this treat, I recommend looking for peanut butter and jelly with no added sugar and drinking lots of water. If possible, brush or chew gum with xylitol [an artificial sweetener] afterward to make sure all of the sticky sugar is removed from your teeth.”
If canned fruit sounds healthy because it has “fruit” in the name, think again. “While fruit is typically considered a healthy option, fruit in a can is often surprisingly unhealthy. If it’s packaged in syrup and coated in sugar, these options become just one step removed from candy,” says Dr. Manning. If you buy canned fruit, be sure to buy fruit that has no sugar added and is packaged in juice and not syrup.
It’s not just gummy bears. Avoid all gummy candies because they ruin teeth, says Lawrence Fung, DDS, a cosmetic dentist at Silicon Beach Dental and spokesperson for Hello Oral Care. “They are terrible for your teeth since they stick to all areas of the tooth and the longer the contact the sweets have with the teeth, the more acid gets produced by cavity-causing bacteria.” (Check out all the other top causes of tooth decay.)
Sorry to ruin your next backyard BBQ, but those sticky red sauces that turn everything delicious are cavities waiting to happen. “Barbecued meats, like spare ribs, are some of the worst foods for teeth because of the caramelized sugars used in the sauce,” explains Frederick Baker, DDS, in Parsippany, New Jersey. “You have the potential to crack your teeth on parts of the meat that may have over-caramelized, and the extra sugar is never good.” (While you’re at it, avoid these other summer favorites that can stain your teeth.)
Snack lovers, take note: Although granola bars may be full of fiber and minerals, they’re awful for oral hygiene and not as healthy as you’d think. “They have a good amount of sugar which is not good for teeth,” says Dr. Baker. “Some brands also coat their granola bars with additional sugars for crunch, so it’s twofold, where you have the potential to break teeth as well as break down enamels with sugars.”
Next, find out the secrets your dentist will never tell you.
- Jonathan Neman, DDS, New York City
- Jon Marashi, DDS, Los Angeles
- Krysta Manning, DMD, MBA, and owner of Solstice Dental & Aesthetics in Louisville, Kentucky
- Lawrence Fung, DDS, a cosmetic dentist at Silicon Beach Dental and spokesperson for Hello "Naturally Friendly" Oral Care, Culver City, California
- Frederick Baker, DDS, Parsippany, New Jersey