When it comes to your smile, the saying “You are what you eat” couldn’t be more fitting. Everything you consume directly impacts the health of your mouth—some for the better some for the worse. “It’s estimated that poor diet and drink choices amount for at least 50% of the damage we see in the smile—genetics and bad habits make up the rest,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS. Knowing which culprits are most detrimental to your smile can make all the difference in how it looks.
Soda, sticky foods, hard candies and crusty breads
What they do: Break down enamel
One of the biggest smile offenders is soda, simply because its sugar and acid contents weigh in at record high levels. Other foods that are harmful to the health of your tooth enamel include hard candies, sticky foods and crusty breads. “It’s the high acidity and low pH levels of these foods and drinks, which are also found in sports drinks, that do a number on the enamel,” says Washington, D.C., cosmetic dentist Peter Rinaldi, DDS. Over time, acid softens and dissolves enamel, creating sensitivity in the teeth and at the gum line. “This can have a domino effect,” says Dr. Goldstein. “Because the gums are so sensitive, you may fail to brush your teeth properly. The gum tissue can then become irritated and have a detrimental effect on the smile.”
Professional cleanings done every three to six months can help maintain a healthy smile and ward off the harmful effects of soda, food and other drinks that break down enamel. “We are using fluoride on adults now more than ever as a way to protect the teeth and fortify the outer layer of enamel,” says Dr. Rinaldi. The best way for your dentist to assess your teeth, and the extent of enamel damage, is with an intra-oral camera. Once a diagnosis has been made, bonding can be used to restore the teeth and correct any change in color that may have occurred. But, if more than just a small area of enamel was damaged, a porcelain veneer may be necessary. “If lost enamel is not treated, the smile can take on a dark look as the underlying tooth structure and roots darken over time,” says Dr. Goldstein.
Hard foods, like nuts
What they do: Crack the teeth
We’re not devaluing the importance of getting plenty of heart-healthy nuts in your diet, but rather just saying to be cautious when consuming these crunchy foods. Many people bite down too hard and end up cracking a tooth because their teeth are already weak from aging and previous damage. “That’s why you shouldn’t use your teeth to open pistachios or nuts,” says Dr. Smigel. “Also, biting into food that’s really hard can cause trauma to the teeth, like cracks and splits.” Chevy Chase, MD, cosmetic dentist Claudia C. Cotca, DDS, adds that, to make matters worse, the acid component in some of these foods can be erosive to the teeth, depending on how often they are consumed.
Depending on where the crack is in the tooth, how many teeth were affected, and how deep the crack goes into the tooth (and possibly below it) will determine how your dentist will choose to rectify the problem. “Regular dental visits for cleanings and evaluations will help monitor and treat small cracks before they become more serious dental issues,” says Bloomington, MN, cosmetic dentist Walter J. Palmer, DDS. “Cracked teeth can be restored with a crown, which is placed over the tooth to cover it.” Bonding helps to correct the crack and also restore the tooth back to its original color (or close to it); veneers are better suited for covering the entire surface of the front of the tooth; and crowns wrap around the front, back and sides of the tooth to contain the fracture.
Dark foods and white wineWhat they do: Cause stains
Anything dark in color—red wine, tomato sauce, tea, curry and coffee—can stain teeth. But you might be shocked to know that the acid in food can lead to stains, too. “Cola, wine and tea contain acid that promotes staining by eroding enamel. Then deeply pigmented foods latch onto the enamel,” says Dr. Palmer. White wine causes enamel damage because of its high acid levels. “The acidity of white wine makes teeth more susceptible to staining from colored drinks,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. Once enamel is removed, pigmented molecules attach to proteins on the teeth and stains occur. “To remove temporary stains that appear after drinking wine, rinse with water and eat bread. The two reduce acidity and neutralize the mouth,” Dr. Smigel adds.
Hands down, the best way to whiten and brighten teeth is by bleaching them, be it in-office or at home, which works wonders on teeth that have become yellow over time (from foods and drinks). Keep in mind that when it comes to whitening your smile, you can only brighten teeth so much. For more difficult cases of staining, the stains may need to be covered up with veneers or crowns to hide the discoloration. No matter how your stains are corrected, Dr. Smigel says that taking preventive measures with proper at-home oral care—brushing for two minutes twice daily—is important.