Getting a cavity filled ranges from horrific to mildly uncomfortable. And while some dental issues are genetic, you can give your mouth the best chance of keeping cavities at bay by avoiding or limiting certain foods. Here are 10 foods to watch out for:
1. Sticky candy: Sugar isn't good for your teeth — period — so that old advice about avoiding candy to help your teeth is solid. But sticky candy, like caramels and taffy are by far the worst offenders. The bacteria that cause cavities thrives on sugar, and sticky candy has contact with your teeth longer than other sweets. Acidic chewy candies (like sour jellies) are even worse, since the acid also eats away at your tooth enamel, while the sugar invites bacteria to hang around a while.
2. Citrus fruits and juices: We love lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges for their tang, but that flavor comes from the natural acids in the fruits, which are the same kind of acids that wear away tooth enamel over time, weakening your chompers.
3. Soda: Most people assume that soda causes tooth decay because of its high levels of sugar (and the sweet stuff does contribute to the problem), but it's the citric and phosphoric acids that really make soda so bad for your teeth. And sports drinks are even worse, according to a 2008 study.
4. Dried fruit: It's just as harmful for your teeth as candy, due to its sugariness and chewiness (and propensity for getting stuck between teeth), though it's certainly better for the rest of your body than Twizzlers.
5. Cookies and crackers: They both turn into a carb- and sugar-rich paste that likes to sit in between your teeth. The more refined the ingredients in the snack foods, the more likely they are to sink in between molars, offering plenty of fuel for hungry, destructive bacteria.
6. Pickles: One study that looked at British teenagers found those with the greatest tooth decay also ate the most pickles, those notoriously tangy and salty treats. Most people don't eat pickles that often, but if you do, it's worth noting the results of this study.
7. Alcohol: All boozy drinks tend to dry out your mouth, but hard liquor and wines do this more than mixed drinks and beer. That dry-mouth feeling means that your saliva flow is reduced, and less saliva means more calories. The old advice of drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume is good for your liver — and your teeth.
8. Ice: It's fun to chew on, but it's tough on your teeth, and it can create microfissures in your enamel that bacteria will exploit over time. This can open your mouth up to cavities.
9. Potato chips: Like cookies and crackers, these fatty carbs like to rest on and in between your teeth — and bacteria love those chips as much as you do.
How do you avoid the worst of the effects? Drink water (or rinse with water) after you eat, or brush your teeth. Chew sugarless gum (the saliva that will be stimulated by chewing will neutralize acids), and always eat these foods with veggies or other foods that will dilute their impact.
So, consider eating an apple with your dried fruit, some carrots with your potato chips, and pair your pickles with some cheese, for example.