Don't let summer fun ruin your teeth

Family enjoying healthy food outdoors

Don't take a summer vacation from good dental care

It's so nice to relax in the summer. That's what summer vacations are all about. But there are some things we shouldn't let go when warm weather comes, especially good dental care habits. So let's talk about a few ways to keep your family's dental health on track this summer.

Soda pop and other sweet stuff

It's a hot summer day. If you're like many people, one of the first things you think of is a nice cold soda pop. Or maybe an energy drink. Ice cream, snow cones, and "slushie"-type drinks or treats might sound good, too.

But Better Homes and Gardens' Family Health web site reminds us that treats full of sugar are hardly sweet to your teeth.

It all comes down to plaque. Plaque is a thin layer of bacteria that lives on our teeth. These germs like sugar as much as we do. As it feeds on the sugar like crazy, it makes an acid. This acid eats away at our tooth enamel, the material that forms the outer surface of our teeth. Weak enamel is subject to cavities, or holes, in the tooth enamel. What's more, plaque creates toxins, or poisons, that attack our gums and the bone that holds our teeth.

It doesn't take much to ruin tooth enamel. A while ago, a group of dentists asked their patients with tooth enamel problems how many sodas they drank each day. Most of the patients said they'd have seven or eight colas. On a hot day, this is easy to do if you're not thinking about it.

And don't forget energy drinks, or other sweet beverages. In fact, dentists say even diet sodas aren't totally safe. They may not have sugar, but they have their own acids, which are also hard on teeth.

If you do drink a soda, energy drink, or munch on starchy or sugary treats, rinse your mouth with water afterward. Dentist Howard S. Glazer, president of the Academy of General Dentistry, says rinsing with water right after drinking a soda cuts the acid's strength in half. Also, if you have the drink with a meal, your saliva can help "level out" the acids.

Or, here's an even simpler idea: why not just drink water? It reduces your intake of acid, and it's much better for keeping you hydrated.

The best and worst foods for your teeth

We are what we eat, and that's especially true for our teeth and gums. A Wyoming Valley Health Care article lists some of the best and worst foods for our teeth.

And the good news? Just as some things invite tooth decay by feeding plaque, others help fight it. So here are some foods for your thought:

Bad for your teeth

Starchy foods that "stick" in your mouth. Things like soft breads, potato chips, and corn can get trapped between your teeth. And as starch breaks down, it turns into sugar.

Sticky candies and sweets. If you eat sweets, go for those that clear out of your mouth quickly. Lollipops, caramels and cough drops with refined sugar are a poor choice. Chocolate is a better choice, because its sugars are coated in fat. The fat is slippery, which helps the sugar leave your mouth and teeth pretty quickly.

Carbonated soft drinks. As we said earlier, these drinks should be limited. Besides being so hard on the teeth, they are the #1 source of added sugar among kids and teens.

Food or drinks that dry out your mouth. These include alcohol and many medicines. If medicine is the cause, talk to your doctor about a fluoride rinse, or a fluoride gel to use when you brush your teeth.

Good for your teeth

 Fruits and vegetables with lots of fiber. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that foods with fiber actually help clean your mouth. They also encourage saliva. The ADA says that next to brushing and flossing, saliva is your best natural defense against cavities and gum disease. About 20 minutes after you eat or drink sugars or starches, your saliva starts to fight the acids attacking your teeth. Saliva also has small amounts of calcium and phosphate, minerals which teeth often lose in bacterial acid attacks.

Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products. Cheese also prompts our mouths to create saliva. The calcium in it and other dairy products also helps put back minerals your teeth might have lost due to other foods.

Green and black teas. Both contain agents called polyphenols. Polyphenols can either kill or suppress plaque bacteria, which controls tooth-attacking acid. Depending on the water you make it with, a cup of tea can also be a source of fluoride.

Sugarless chewing gum. This is another great saliva producer. It also clears food particles from your mouth.

Foods and water with fluoride. Fluoridated drinking water can help your teeth. So can food or drinks you make with it, like sugar-free powdered juice or dried soups. Other foods like poultry, seafood, and powdered cereals, may also provide fluoride.

A few last words from the American Dental Association:

If you're going to eat sweet things, eat them with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva during meals. This helps neutralize acid production, and rinses food particles from the mouth.

Watch between-meal snacks. If you crave a snack, choose something nutritious. Think about chewing sugarless gum afterward to increase saliva flow and wash out food and acid.

Drink more water. Fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. If you choose bottled water, check the label for the fluoride levels.

Brush and floss daily. Brush your teeth twice and floss once a day.

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