Treats…who doesn’t love them?
Are some treats worse for teeth than others?
The answer is…yes.
The sweetest treats are not always the worse enemies of teeth. How bad a treat is for teeth, depends on what else are in the treats beside sugars.
Here is why…
Enamel protects the surfaces of teeth. Healthy enamel is pretty tough (1,2). Enamel is stronger than bone. It takes a diamond bur to drill into healthy enamel. However, enamel does not do well in acidic conditions (enamel dissolves at around pH 5.5) (3-4). In contrast, decay-causing bacteria thrives in acidic environments and produce lots of acids in the presence of sugars (3-6). Sugars and acids in our diet support the decay-causing bacteria to live, produce lots of acids and increase in numbers (4, 6-12). The decay-causing bacteria and the acids they produce reinforce and sustain the acidic conditions in the mouth, which break down the natural protective balance, reduce the repair potential of remineralization, promote demineralization, soften enamel, cause tooth decay and eventually, destroy teeth (3-5).
Whether a treat is acidic or not, is also important since acidic treats support the acidic conditions that decay-causing bacteria loves and that teeth enamel hates (3, 5, 11-14).
Then there is the issue of stickiness and retention. Treats that are sticky or that are difficult to clear completely, stay in the mouth and on teeth for longer and if the sticky treats are sugar- and/or acid-laden; by being retained for longer, these sugary and/or acidic sticky treats support the acidic environment and the acid-loving and acid-producing decay-causing bacteria better and for longer (9, 15).
How do we tell which treats are the worst?
I often tell my little patients that as detectives who aim to uncover nasty treats, there are 3 questions to ask as part of their investigation to find out if a treat is teeth friendly enough to eat or drink, or not:
Is it sweet?
Is it sour?
Is it sticky?
Put simply if a food or drink is sweet AND sour AND sticky. It is not teeth friendly. Avoid them if you can. Or only have them on special occasions. And make sure your teeth are cleaned well afterwards.
In addition, the extent of the sweet, sour and sticky characteristics also makes a significant difference. The more sugar, the more acidic and the stickier a treat is, the worse it is for teeth.
Besides “the bad”, some treats may also contain ingredients that are teeth protective (16-22). For example, vitamins, minerals such as fluoride, calcium and phosphorous, and proteins such as casein, promote remineralization and reduce demineralization, and therefore protect teeth; food rich in arginine, are helpful to the good bacteria in the mouth to neutralise or reduce the acidic condition in the mouth (18-22).
So, based on the above, let’s evaluate some treats together!
Are dried fruits a tooth friendly treat?
Are dried fruits sweet? Yes.
Are dried fruits sour? Yes.
Are dried fruits sticky? Yes.
Do dried fruits contain tooth protective ingredients? Not really, the vitamins and minerals are lost during the drying process.
The conclusion? Dried fruits is a 3S food, so best avoided on a day to day basis.
What about chocolate-coated almonds?
Are chocolate-coated almonds sweet? Yes.
Are chocolate-coated almonds sour? No.
Are chocolate-coated almonds sticky? Yes.
Do chocolate-coated almonds contain tooth protective ingredients? Yes. There are vitamin D, calcium, phosphorous, and casein from the dairy component, and arginine in the almonds.
The conclusion? Chocolate-coated almonds is not a 3S food, it is ok to have as a treat but remember to drink plenty of water afterwards.
Regardless of what you eat or drink, don’t forget to brush and floss every day!
Now, your turn…what treats would you like to investigate?
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