Though decay is most prevalent among children, adults can still suffer from it. Sugar is the main cause, “but any food you consume can contribute,” says dentist Brian McAllister.
What’s more, oral health is affected not only by what you eat and drink, but how you eat and drink it. Given the links between dental disease and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, a good diet and healthy eating habits are good for teeth and your health. “If you are obese, you will have dental decay,” McAllister points out. “Obesity is related to processed foods and high-sucrose foods.”
“Avoid sugar addiction in the home,” says pediatric dentist Richard M. Quinn. That means everyone should limit their consumption of juices, sugary drinks, candy, cookies and sugary cereals. When you do eat or drink such things, do it quickly.
“It’s all about the amount of time that sugar is on your teeth,” McAllister says. “What’s really destructive is the person who carries the Monster (energy drink) or the soda or the iced tea with lots of sugar and every 20 minutes takes a sip. Every 20 minutes they’re coating their mouth with sugar, so the acid level in your mouth gets elevated for 15, 20 minutes.” That erodes your teeth. It’s better to drink quickly so saliva has time to dilute those destructive acids.
The same goes for eating. “If you have two or three cookies, eat them all at once,” Quinn says. “Don’t space them out. Give your saliva time to dilute the acids.”
Quinn recommends weaning children off sippy cups as soon as possible. Juice bathes front teeth in sugar. “Milk bottle mouth” is similar. “Just don’t put a kid down with a bottle,” he says. Give kids juice only with meals, and dilute it. Between meals, limit drinks to white milk and water.
Kids need an occasional dose of what Quinn calls Vitamin N: saying “no” to their pleas for sweets. Says dentist Stanley H. Goloskov, “Whether you are an unogenarian or octogenarian, the same rules apply.”