Whether you're whitening your teeth, working on a healthier smile, or just trying to keep your pearly whites in good shape, the foods you eat play a significant role in your oral health. Some of the treats and drinks we enjoy can cause damage to tooth enamel, contribute to cavities, discolor your teeth, and even lead to painful issues like sensitivity and gum disease.
This is primarily caused by bacteria in your mouth, which turn sugary or starchy foods into acid. The longer the acid stays on your teeth, the more damage it causes to enamel and increases the risk of cavities and other oral health issues.
But knowing exactly which foods to avoid can be challenging, and some of those on this list may surprise you. If you want to improve your smile, avoiding these 11 drinks and foods that damage teeth can make a big difference.
The 11 Worst Foods And Beverages For Your Teeth
Plenty of foods and drinks are famous for their damaging effects on your teeth. But others can be just as bad, and you may not even realize it.
Here are the 11 worst foods and beverages for your teeth:
- Sugary snacks, candy, and gum
- Soft drinks
- Citrus fruits
- Coffee and tea
- Ice cubes
- Alcoholic beverages
- Sports drinks and energy drinks
- Dried fruits like raisins
- Sauces and condiments like ketchup, mustard, and pasta sauce
- Vinegar-based dressings and foods
- Starchy foods like bread, crackers, and pretzels
1. Sugary Snacks, Candy, And Gum
For most people, it comes as no surprise that sugary snacks, candy, and gum are potentially the worst foods for your teeth. Anything with sugar can contribute to cavities, and the sticky confections can be especially damaging because they stay in the mouth longer.
Not all sweets are created equal, though. The worst candies for you include:
- Sticky Candies: Sticky candies like taffy, caramels, gummy bears, and sour worms get stuck in your teeth and can be hard to remove.
- Hard Candies: Hard candies like Jolly Ranchers dissolve slowly in your mouth and stay there for a longer time. The bacteria in the mouth have more time to turn them into acid that damages tooth enamel.
- Sour Candies: Since sour candy is made with far more acid than other types of candy, it is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to damaging your teeth.
- Caramel Popcorn and Popcorn Balls: Popcorn kernels can get stuck between your teeth and in other hard-to-reach places, making them difficult to remove. The sugar found in caramel popcorn and popcorn balls can also damage your tooth enamel.
- Sugared Gum: For the same reason that other sugary candies are bad for your teeth, sugared gum can contribute to cavities if chewed too frequently. Instead, it's best to chew sugar-free gum, which is proven to have several oral health benefits.
If you want to enjoy a sweet treat, it's better to go for one that won't stick to your teeth and can be eaten quickly. Most dental experts agree that chocolate is a much better option than the sugary snacks listed above.
Particularly dark chocolate—with its high concentration of polyphenols—can actually be beneficial for your teeth, according to recent studies.
2. Soft Drinks
We're all aware that there isn't much nutrition to be had from soda, even if it's labeled "diet." Soft drinks are the worst beverages for your teeth for several reasons:
- The added sugars can lead to cavities and tooth decay
- The high levels of acid in soda wear away enamel
- The carbonation irritates the gums and teeth
- Sodas dry your mouth, reducing your saliva and its ability to protect your teeth
- Dark-colored sodas can cause yellow teeth
Of course, that doesn't mean that all sodas are equally bad for your teeth (although they are all addictive). Clear soda, in particular, is less likely to stain your teeth than darker-colored drinks.
But regardless of the color, soft drinks can be highly damaging if consumed regularly and in high amounts. Just remember not to brush your teeth directly after drinking a soda, as the acid can soften your enamel and make it easier to scratch away.
3. Citrus Fruits
You may be surprised to learn that citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are bad for your teeth. While they may be packed with vitamin C and other essential nutrients (making them essential for healthy gums), these fruits are also acidic and can erode tooth enamel.
That isn't to say you should avoid eating citrus—that would be unreasonable.
What's important is that you avoid brushing your teeth for thirty minutes after eating or drinking citrus products. This will give your saliva time to restore the natural pH balance in your mouth and protect your enamel from further damage.
If you want to dilute the acid in your mouth, wash your mouth out with plain water before brushing your teeth. And if you want to enjoy a citrusy snack, avoid sucking on it for an extended period of time.
4. Coffee And Tea
The relationship between coffee and teeth whitening is a complicated one. While coffee can stain your enamel, it has also been shown to reduce the risk of gum disease and bone loss due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Boston University Department of Health Policy & Health Services Research Chair Raul Garcia, D.M.D. found that in a statistically significant manner, coffee consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of periodontitis and alveolar bone loss.
But in addition to acid, coffee contains tannins (i.e., pigmented substances that can discolor your teeth) and caffeine (a diuretic that dries out your mouth). Both of these compounds can contribute to tooth staining if consumed regularly.
Tea can also impact your teeth—although it is generally a better option than coffee. It's important to note that black tea can stain your teeth more easily, but some polyphenols present in teas like green and white are known to be beneficial for oral health.
If you want to drink coffee or tea (like most of the world does), there are a few things you can do to protect your teeth:
- Rinse your mouth with water after drinking coffee or tea. This will reduce the amount of tannins that stay on your teeth and cause staining.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as this will help keep your mouth hydrated and reduce the drying effects of caffeine.
- Avoid adding sugar to your coffee or tea, as this will increase the risk of cavities and tooth decay.
- Consider using a straw when drinking these beverages, as it helps reduce their contact with your teeth.
You may also consider coffee alternatives like yerba mate or matcha, which contain fewer tannins and, therefore, cause fewer stains.
5. Ice Cubes
Most people are surprised to hear that ice cubes are bad for your teeth. But ice is a hardened form of water, which means it is just as bad for your enamel as any other hard substance.
The way you chew can have a big impact on the health of your teeth. Chewing hard items like ice cubes can chip or crack them, allowing bacteria to enter and cause tooth decay.
Some people love chewing ice (especially in the summer) because they find it refreshing. If you can't resist the temptation, try to keep your ice-chewing habit in check and avoid crunching on large chunks of ice.
It's also important to note that if you have a history of dental problems like cavities or gum disease, avoid chewing ice altogether, as this can worsen these conditions.
If you're looking for a refreshing way to stay cool during the summer, try drinking cold water or sucking on sugar-free ice pops instead. Not only will this help protect your teeth, but it can also satisfy your craving without putting your oral health at risk.
6. Alcoholic Beverages
You probably know that alcoholic drinks aren't exactly healthy. After all, they can damage your organs, impair your judgment, and mess with your mood. But did you know that they can also damage your teeth?
Alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugar and acid, both of which can erode the enamel on your teeth. And if they are consumed in large quantities and without food, this can further increase the damage they cause.
What's more, alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your body, which leads to a dry mouth (a condition known as xerostomia). A dry mouth means that your saliva production is reduced and this can reduce the amount of protection you get from the bacteria in your mouth.
If you're an avid wine drinker, the high level of acidity and dark tannins can put you at risk of staining your teeth as well.
It's common for those who party on the weekends to forego brushing their teeth that night. But this is a mistake, as it can worsen the already-damaging effects of alcohol on your teeth.
So, if you do choose to drink alcoholic beverages, remember the following:
- Make sure to brush your teeth afterward to minimize the damage caused by the acid and sugar.
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water to stay hydrated and reduce the risk of tooth decay.
- If you can, avoid dark-colored beverages (like red wine) which can stain your teeth.
If you're looking for something to snack on while drinking, opt for healthier options like cheese and vegetables. This will help neutralize the acid in the drinks and provide your teeth with some extra protection.
Of course, this won't always be possible, so the best thing to do is practice moderation when it comes to alcoholic beverages and be sure to brush afterward.
7. Sports Drinks And Energy Drinks
Since sports and energy drinks are marketed differently than sodas, people often perceive them as "healthier" or more benign. But the truth is, they are just as bad for your teeth and can cause cavities and tooth decay.
This is because sports drinks contain high levels of sugar, citric acid, and phosphoric acid—all of which can erode your enamel and cause cavities if consumed in large amounts.
Energy drinks are particularly bad, as they not only contain large amounts of sugar but also stimulants like caffeine and taurine. This can increase your heart rate and make you more prone to cavities because of the dryness it causes in your mouth.
In fact, these beverages have been shown to have more aggressive effects on teeth than soda. So while they may be marketed as a way to stay hydrated and energized during workouts, it's best to drink water—it's clear, hydrating, and won't damage your teeth. Plus, it won't bloat you like sugary drinks can.
8. Dried Fruits
Dried fruits (e.g., raisins, craisins, dried mangoes, etc.) may seem like a healthy snack option, but the truth is that they can do more harm than good to your teeth.
They are incredibly sticky, meaning they'll be difficult to remove from your teeth. This can leave particles of the food behind and increase your risk of tooth decay. Plus, since they are so sticky, they can also adhere to your enamel and cause erosion over time.
What's worse, dried fruits tend to contain high amounts of sugar (in the form of fructose) and acid, which can further increase the damage they do to your teeth.
If the dried fruit you buy is coated with a sugary glaze or sprinkle, then this damage is even worse.
So if you're looking for a healthy snack option that won't damage your teeth, opt for fresh fruits instead (e.g., apples, oranges, etc.). They not only contain fewer sugars and acids but they also won't adhere to your teeth.
9. Sauces And Condiments
Sauces and condiments are seemingly harmless—they go on just about everything and are usually a tasty addition to any meal. But the truth is that they can be surprisingly damaging to your teeth.
There are several sauces and condiments that can damage your teeth:
- Pasta sauce
- Barbecue sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Soy sauce
Believe it or not, these products are all filled with processed sugar and acid, making them a no-no when it comes to healthy teeth. We aren't saying that you're doomed to eat dry sandwiches or flavorless French fries for the rest of your life, but you can look for healthier alternatives if you want maximum dental protection.
If you want to protect your teeth, opt for healthier condiments and sauces like olive oil, pesto sauce, hummus, or avocado. These not only contain fewer sugars and acids but they are also packed with beneficial nutrients that can help strengthen your enamel.
10. Vinegar-Based Dressings And Foods
Anything with vinegar in it will be particularly bad for your teeth, as vinegar is highly acidic. A few popular grocery store items that contain vinegar include:
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salad dressings
- Apple cider vinegar
- Salt and vinegar potato chips
Especially when vinegar is undiluted (like in the case of apple cider vinegar), the acid can cause serious harm to your teeth.
Most of these items are consumed in small quantities, but it's important to keep this in mind when you're shopping for groceries. If you want to protect your teeth, try opting for a milder version of the same item. For example, if you love pickles, switch over to bread and butter pickles which contain less vinegar than the traditional kind.
11. Starchy Foods
Starchy foods like bread, crackers, pretzels, and potato chips can also damage your teeth.
Chewing bread, for example, activates saliva in your mouth, which breaks down starches into sugar. This thick paste-like consistency adheres to the crevices between teeth and can lead to cavities if not removed properly.
Other starchy foods like potato chips and pretzels can also get lodged between teeth, making it difficult for saliva to clean them out.
To mitigate the damage starchy foods do to your teeth, it's best to floss after a meal or snack. This will help dislodge any pieces of food that are stuck in your teeth and make it easier for saliva to do its job.
Want to know more? Here are a few questions our customers frequently ask us:
What Foods Destroy Tooth Enamel?
Any food or beverage containing acid, starch, or sugar has the potential to damage your tooth enamel. Pigmented foods and drinks like coffee, wine, and some teas can further damage your teeth by discoloring them.
Do Fruits Damage Your Teeth?
Fruits can be damaging to your teeth if they contain high amounts of sugar and acid. Dried fruit, in particular, is especially bad for your teeth as it contains them in more concentrated levels. If you want to snack on something healthy that won't damage your teeth, opt for fresh, non-citrus fruits like apples and strawberries. These foods are also some of the best foods for teeth whitening.
Which Foods Cause The Most Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is caused by the buildup of plaque on your teeth. Foods and drinks that are high in sugar, starch, and acid can all lead to tooth decay if they aren't removed quickly enough. Soda, energy drinks, candy, and other sugary snacks are some of the most common causes of tooth decay. Condiments, sauces, and vinegars can also harm your teeth, but they are usually consumed in much smaller amounts.
What Foods Help Heal Cavities?
Eating foods that are high in calcium and other nutrients can naturally help strengthen your teeth and keep them healthy. Try incorporating fruits and vegetables, dairy products, lean proteins, legumes, nuts and seeds into your diet for maximum benefit to your teeth.
Should I Brush My Teeth Before Or After Breakfast?
You should brush your teeth before breakfast. Since many breakfast foods contain sugary or acidic foods and drinks, brushing beforehand will help remove any plaque and bacteria that has built up while you were sleeping. If you decide to brush your teeth after breakfast, you will need to wait 30 to 60 minutes for the saliva to neutralize the acids before brushing.
After breakfast, we recommend flossing and rinsing with water to help remove any food particles. It's also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth clean and hydrated.
What Foods Should I Avoid While Whitening My Teeth?
For health purposes, it's always best to avoid sugary foods and drinks. But if you're looking to whiten your teeth, it's best to avoid foods and drinks that discolor or stain them. This includes coffee, tea, red wine, dark juices and sodas, as well as heavily pigmented fruits like blueberries and cherries.
Depending on the teeth whitening options you have, you may also want to avoid foods that cause sensitivity. These foods include acidic fruits and vegetables like oranges, lemons, limes, tomatoes, and pineapples.
How Can I Rebuild My Teeth Without Changing My Diet?
If you suffer from tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, or other dental issues, you may want to consider using a special toothpaste to help restore your teeth.
There are some over-the-counter products available that can provide relief from tooth sensitivity and strengthen enamel.
That said, if you eat sugary, starchy, or acidic foods and drinks in excess, you should try to limit them as much as possible. Additionally, make sure you visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. This will help ensure that any damage caused by foods is identified early on and treated properly.
How Can I Whiten My Teeth While Keeping The Same Diet?
If you don't want to avoid harmful food or drinks while whitening your teeth, follow these teeth whitening tips:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Use dental floss and mouthwash daily to remove food particles lodged between your teeth.
- Avoid acidic juices, coffee, tea, red wine, and sodas that can stain or discolor your teeth.
- Eat crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples, celery, and carrots. These foods act like natural toothbrushes that help remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth hydrated and clean.
Ultimately, most of these foods are unavoidable. If you love one or more of these foods, we aren't expecting you to give it up completely.
But eating and drinking in moderation can help you protect your teeth while still enjoying the tastes you love. And keeping a solid dental routine, including brushing twice a day, using mouthwash, and flossing daily, will help you maintain healthy teeth.