1) HERBAL TEA
Fruit-flavored tea can be three times more damaging than orange juice, a study carried out by the University of Bristol Dental School found. Many fruit teas are acidic and eat away at tooth enamel, with lemon and blackcurrant among the most damaging.
REDUCE THE RISK: Stick to black or green tea. Compounds in black tea can attack the bacteria that form plaque and prevent the plaque from sticking to teeth, U.S. researchers found.
More recently, a study at the University of Tohoku in Japan found that drinking one or more cups of green tea a day reduces the risk of cavities. It is thought antioxidants, called catechins, in the tea stop bacteria in the mouth from producing acid.
2) HEALTHY SNACKS
Even if you’re snacking on healthy fruit, seeds and nuts, it’s eating little and often that can do your teeth harm.
‘A tooth can withstand five acid attacks a day,’ says Karen Coates. ‘Saliva takes about an hour to neutralize the acid created by a food or drink. So if you have a can of fizzy drink and sip it all day long, then the acid in your mouth will be under constant attack.’
REDUCE THE RISK: Stick to three meals a day and avoid snacking. If you must snack, eat it all at once, rather than picking at it, so that the saliva can quickly neutralize the acid generated in the mouth. After food, rinse your mouth out with water or chew sugar-free gum to encourage saliva, which neutralizes the acid.
3) EYE DROPS
It sounds unlikely, but anti-inflammatory eye drops can contribute to tooth decay. They are one of a number of drugs — including antidepressants, ibuprofen, antihistamines and blood pressure medications — that cause dry mouth, which means they reduce the production of saliva.
Saliva acts as a barrier, protecting the teeth by neutralizing acidic foods such as oranges, and the acid produced by bacteria as they break down foods.
Karen Coates, dental adviser to the British Dental Health Foundation, says: ‘If you are having the odd painkiller here and there, then you will probably be fine. But if you take a daily medication, such as antihistamines throughout the summer, your production of saliva will be reduced and your teeth will be more vulnerable.’
Surprising threat to teeth: Eye drops can give you a dry mouth.
REDUCE THE RISK: ‘There are gums, lozenges and gels available over the counter specifically for dry mouth that help encourage the production of saliva,’ says Karen. ‘You could also suck sugar-free sweets for the same effect.’
Many dismiss it as just an old wives’ tale, but motherhood really can ruin your teeth. About 50 per cent of pregnant women will develop gingivitis — inflamed gums that bleed during brushing.
Gingivitis is usually caused by food that gets trapped between the teeth and gums, producing bacteria that lead to inflammation.
The raised levels of estrogen and progesterone circulating in a pregnant woman’s body causes increased blood flow to all parts of the body, including the gums, which can become puffy and inflamed so they bleed easily when brushed.
Gingivitis can, in time, lead to periodontal disease, when a severe infection gets into the gums and bones. This can lead to tooth loss and premature birth, as the bacteria in the mouth release prostaglandins, chemicals that can induce labor.
REDUCE THE RISK: ‘If you’re pregnant, brush twice a day for two minutes each time, floss after meals and do not reduce your brushing just because you see blood,’ says Louise Childlow, of the British Dental Health Foundation.
A study of 500 swimmers found 66 per cent of them had damaged teeth as a result of chlorine.
‘Chlorine affects the pH of the water and makes it acidic, so swallowing it can lead to tooth erosion,’ says Louise Chidlow.
‘This can result in yellowing teeth – because the acid strips the enamel and starts to reveal darker-colored dentin underneath. It is not a common problem, but may be an issue for regular swimmers who spend a long time in the pool each day.’
REDUCE THE RISK: Try to keep your mouth closed while swimming. Don’t brush your teeth straight after your dip because at this time the surface of the teeth could be softened by the acidic chlorine and could be more easily brushed away.
6) TOOTH WHITENING
Investigations have found that some DIY home whitening kits don’t just lighten the tooth, but erode it.
The kits involve putting a bleach — hydrogen peroxide — into a tray that fits around the teeth like a gum shield. A study by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry warned that in some home kits the mold did not fit correctly, so the bleaching agent could leak out and damage gums.
Others have been found to contain levels of hydrogen peroxide that exceed legal limits and also have acids that could dissolve the teeth.
REDUCE THE RISK: ‘If you want to whiten your teeth, get a dentist to do it, as they will use a made-to-measure tray around the teeth that will reduce the risk of leakage,’ says Dr Keith Cohen, a dentist specializing in restorative work.
‘If you want to use a home kit, then get one from a chemist — not from unknown sites on the internet.’
7) VIDEO GAMES
People who play a lot of computer or video games have twice as much tooth decay as those with more athletic interests, according to a study from the University of Iowa.
The researchers said that when you are absorbed in a game or TV program, you’re more likely to binge on sugary snacks and lose focus of how much you are popping into your mouth.
REDUCE THE RISK: Fill your kitchen cupboards with savory rather then sweet snacks, such as raw vegetables with hummus.
8) UNCSREWING A PLASTIC BOTTLE WITH YOUR TEETH
Can’t open that packet of crackers or unscrew a plastic bottle lid? Don’t use your teeth, as many people do, as this can lead to bits of tooth chipping or breaking.
‘The edges of the teeth are, unfortunately, the thinnest bit, and when you use them as tools it is this part that takes the strain,’ says Louise Chidlow.
REDUCE THE RISK: ‘I don’t use my teeth for anything other than eating,’ says Louise. Save your pearly whites and use bottle openers and scissors instead.
9) WHITE WINE
You probably thought red wine was worse for teeth, because it stains. Yet studies have shown that it’s white wine that’s more likely to cause your teeth to rot, because it is more acidic.
Other research has found that white wine can make other drinks stain the teeth more. One study found that immersing a tooth in white wine and then tea led to ‘significantly more’ staining than immersing a tooth in water, then tea.
‘White wine is definitely more erosive than red,’ says Dr Paul Ashley, of the Eastman Dental Institute, University College Hospitals.
REDUCE THE RISK: Drink during a meal rather than sipping wine or alcohol all through the evening, which effectively gives the teeth a constant bath of acid. Alternatively, you could eat a piece of cheese straight after drinking wine to help neutralize the acid, or swill with water.
10) BRUSHING AFTER EATING SWEETS
If you chomp on chocolate or sweets, don’t be tempted to undo the damage by brushing straight away.
After eating sugary foods, the environment in your mouth becomes acidic, which makes the tooth enamel soften slightly. If you then brush your teeth straight away, you will brush away some of the enamel, leading to tooth erosion and sensitivity.
REDUCE THE RISK: Wait at least half an hour after eating before you brush your teeth. Teeth should be cleaned twice a day — ideally before breakfast (though you can eat straight after brushing) to get rid of the bacteria that have grown overnight and which will flourish once you eat.
Don’t rinse your mouth after the evening clean, as the fluoride in the toothpaste will help protect teeth through the night, when saliva production drops, making them more liable to decay.
Unmanaged diabetes can lead to higher than normal levels of glucose in the fluids in the mouth, which can lead directly to decay. The condition can also affect the blood vessels and blood flow to the gums, which can weaken and leave them prone to infections, resulting in gum disease — and, ultimately, the loss of a tooth.
‘Many people with diabetes don’t realize the risks to their teeth,’ says Dr Keith Cohen. ‘If they did, it might prompt them to take better care generally, as no one wants to lose teeth.’
REDUCE THE RISK: Keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels.
12) EXCESSIVE BRUSHING
‘Some people think that giving their teeth a really good scrub four times a day will keep them really clean, but, in fact, they could be doing more harm than good because this can cause erosion,’ says Dr Cohen.
Scrubbing back and forth can also wear away the tooth surface at the gum.
REDUCE THE RISK: Stick to using a soft or medium brush. Keep it at a 45-degree angle to your teeth, and use a gentle, circular motion. Scrub gently: Excessive brushing is not good for your teeth
13) SALAD DRESSING
‘Vinegar is so acidic that a generous amount of highly vinegary dressing eaten once or twice a day every day could be capable of causing a lot of erosion,’ says Dr Keith Cohen.
REDUCE THE RISK: Avoid having vinaigrette-style dressing every day. Instead, have a less acidic version, such as mayonnaise or even just plain olive oil.
To minimize the effects of acidic dressings, you could use fluoride mouthwash after eating to help strengthen the teeth against the acid attack.
14) SPORTS DRINKS
Designed to replace energy and salts lost through exercise, sport drinks are often packed with sugar and acids. One study at the University of Birmingham found that sports drinks are 30 times more corrosive than water. To compound the problem, most people will drink sports drinks when their mouths are dry and do not contain much saliva to neutralize acids.
REDUCE THE RISK: Drink water or swill with water straight after a sports drink and chew sugar-free gum to buffer the effects of acid with saliva.
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