When your teeth develop caries (cavities), it means you have oral bacterial colonies living on the surface of your teeth and gums – in a bio-film called plaque.
So why does plaque develop and accumulate on your teeth and gums? Usually, it is a result of frequent snacking on sugary and starchy food.
Oral bacteria in plaque thrive on a continuous supply of sticky sugary and starchy food residue trapped in your teeth. As a result, the plaque thickens and bacterial fermentation creates acid – which demineralises and dissolves your tooth enamel.
Frequent snacking increases the frequency and duration of high acid levels directly on your tooth surfaces. So much so that your saliva doesn’t have a chance to neutralise the acid, and remineralise your tooth enamel. By the time you brush your teeth before bed, the damage has already been done.
Once your tooth enamel is gone, you open the door to a whole host of nastier pathogenic oral bacteria. These new bacterial colonies penetrate through your teeth resulting in more decay, larger cavities and eventually, tooth loss and gum disease.
But not all foods promote the formation of plaque and acids. There are foods that oral bacteria cannot feed on. There are also foods that can help strengthen your tooth enamel. Some foods even help clean and protect your teeth.
Which foods types are bad for your teeth and which ones are good?
In regard to oral health, foods are rated by their cariogenic potential. Cariogenic is defined as “promoting or producing the development of caries”.
The worst: Cariogenic foods
Cariogenic foods have the most potential to cause caries. They are high in refined carbohydrates such as both sugars and starches, which promote the development of plaque and the creation of acid. Cariogenic foods include: sweet pastries, chips, cookies, crackers, white bread, sweetened cereals, cakes, confectionary, sweetened muesli bars, dried fruits, ice cream, flavoured milk, sweet yoghurt, beer and any sugary beverages. Follow any consumption by rinsing your mouth with water immediately.
The not-so-bad: Low cariogenic foods.
Low cariogenic foods are unrefined carbohydrates with no added sugar. Their higher fibre content can help remove plaque – but they still have the potential to cause caries without a good oral health care routine. Low cariogenic foods include: white bread with chocolate and sweet spreads and whole grains, whole wheat bread, tortillas, wholemeal pasta, cooked starchy vegetables (such as corn, potatoes, yams, peas, carrots, beans), acidic fruits (such as mango and berries), soup and meat or cheese sandwiches.
Neutral: Cario-static foods
Cario-static foods are not a food source for bacteria. Since bacterial fermentation does not occur, no harmful acids are produced that can demineralise your tooth enamel. Cario-static foods include: red meat, pork, fish, chicken, eggs, raw high-fibre vegetables (such as celery, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cucumber and kale), nuts, popcorn and non-acidic artificial sweeteners.
The protectors: Anti-cariogenic foods
Anti-cariogenic foods do not contribute to any acid formation in the oral cavity. On top of that, if eaten first, they can help buffer your tooth enamel against the effects of eating cariogenic foods. The top anti-cariogenic foods/drinks of this type are plain milk and cheese (such as Swiss and aged Cheddar).
Chewing non-citric Xylitol gum clears bacteria and fermentable carbohydrate residue from tooth surfaces, stimulates saliva, and is recommended after eating cariogenic foods. Green tea can help prevent plaque formation on tooth surfaces. Both Xylitol gum and green tea have clinically-proven antimicrobial properties.