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Have a Sweet Tooth? Snack Wisely to Avoid Cavities

Sugary foods and tooth decay go hand in hand. But do you know why? The bacteria that naturally live in your mouth produce a sticky film called plaque on the surface of your teeth. When you eat something sugary, the plaque bacteria feed on the sugar, turning it into an acid. This acid then eats away at the hard enamel on your teeth—and over time, a cavity forms.1

To protect your smile, you do not have to follow a strict sugar-free diet. In fact, many nutritious foods—including fruit and milk—contain some type of natural sugar.2 Instead, when you crave something sweet, just choose wisely, urges the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. To help protect your smile, ask yourself these questions when choosing a sweet food:1

Is this loaded with sugar? If it is, the best time to eat it is with a meal, not as a stand-alone snack. That way, other foods and beverages will help keep the sugar from clinging inside your mouth. And if you typically brush after meals, the sugar residue will soon be cleaned off.1

Will this stick to my teeth? Sugary treats that are chewy or sticky—such as taffy, licorice, or dried fruit—tend to latch onto tooth surfaces. If you can’t brush your teeth immediately after eating, then choose something nonsticky: chocolate instead of caramel or grapes instead of raisins.1

How long will this stay in my mouth? Lollipops, hard candies, and full-sugar chewing gum are held in the mouth for awhile. The result is a lingering “sugar bath” for your teeth. Instead, choose sugarless gum or treats that you chew and swallow promptly.1

If you want a satisfying snack to tide you over between meals, choose foods from the basic four food groups, such as:1

  • Fresh fruits and raw vegetables

  • Whole-grain crackers or unsweetened cereal

  • Low- or non-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese

  • Lean protein, such as turkey or nuts

For your smile’s sake, make sugary foods an occasional treat. And whenever you can, brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste after snacking or eating a meal. Be sure to brush at least twice a day, paying special attention to the gum line.1

1 “Snack Smart for Healthy Teeth.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Accessed 2010.

2 “Diet and Snacking.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Accessed 2010.

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