Most baby boomers grew up sitting down to a table to eat a meal. For many of us and the generations before us, there was a set time of day for breakfast, lunch and supper. Drinking a soft drink or having a candy bar as a snack between meals was rare. As a matter of fact, snacking at all was rare.
Today, however, snacking is common. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to go through any check-out line without being tempted to reach for a candy bar, pack of crackers or bag of chips as we’re being rung up. My dry cleaner even has a stand that offers gum and mints at the cash register.
While today’s population has grown accustomed to having easy access to snacks galore, the definition of mealtime has changed for many people. Rather than sit down to breakfast, many individuals grab a breakfast bar to eat on the way to work and get a flavored coffee drink mid-morning. Lunch may consist of eating fast food in the car while running errands or at one’s desk. A mid-afternoon snack is common and dinner may consist of take-out pizza or a frozen entree heated in the microwave oven. And, it’s so tempting to top off the day with a bowl of ice-cream in front of the television.
Yes, times have changed. Some people now prefer to ‘graze’ throughout the day rather than focus on eating three meals. This means they eat small meals 6 – 7 times a day rather than ‘three squares.’
While eating habits are one’s personal choice according to what works for their lifestyle, I thought it would be helpful to explain what happens in your mouth based upon how often you eat as well as what you consume.
Every time you eat or drink something, be aware that this triggers an acid attack in the mouth. This acid flows in with saliva and is a natural part of the digestive process, helping to break foods down in the mouth as you chew or drink (other than water).
Unfortunately, this acid is very tough on teeth, so much so that it can actually soften tooth enamel for 20 – 30 minutes after eating. So, imagine sipping a sugary soda over the course of an hour while sitting at your desk. This means that your mouth is enduring an onslaught of acid from the time you take that first sip to the time you take the last one and then 20 – 30 minutes after.
Added to the duration is WHAT you eat or drink, which is where things can get worse. Consider the soft drink again. The acidity in the soda combined with the sugar is a heavy load for the mouth. Sugar tends to be a super-food for oral bacteria, ramping up bacteria reproduction.
However, if you think chips or pretzels are a safer bet, they are only slightly better. Carbohydrates are a simple sugar that convert in the mouth, so these don’t put your smile in much better territory. Although celery and carrot sticks are MUCH safer snacks, they still trigger an acid attack – just not one that is as potent as those mixing with sugars in the mouth.
Other food and beverages that can add to the problem are those that are caffeinated or acidic, including coffee, tea, citrus, tomatoes, chocolate and alcoholic drinks. Caffeine and alcohol are very drying to oral tissues. This provides oral bacteria an environment that supports their growth since saliva flow is depleted.
Now that you know the perils of frequent eating and what some foods and beverages do to make matters worse, here are some ways to avoid damage to your teeth and gums:
• Never miss your twice-daily brushing. These brief times at the sink are quick, cheap ways to decrease oral bacteria in the mouth. Brush for at least two minutes per time. Go the extra mile by brushing your tongue with your toothbrush at the end of each session. An enormous amount of bacteria is embedded in the tongue, especially in the back.
• Flossing removes food bits that are caught between teeth. These bits begin to rot rather quickly, which supports bacteria growth. If flossing is awkward for you, purchase a water flosser. These are proven to be as effective as flossing and are affordable and easy to use.
• Be conscious of sipping for extended periods of time. Having wine with friends after work is a pleasant way to wind down from a busy day. However, sipping a glass of wine over an hour or so is a double whammy to your smile. Not only does the time frame add to a lengthy acid attack, the acidity in wine AND its drying effects on oral tissues work against your oral health. Order a glass of water with your wine (or other alcoholic beverage) and take in swallows periodically that wash over teeth and gums. This helps to dilute the acidity in the mouth. If preferred, take a bathroom break once an hour to rinse your mouth in the sink.
• Think again when reaching for a snack. For the good of your smile, choose cheese over chips, nuts over a candy bar, flavored and unsweetened water over cola, and an apple over a snack bar.
• Be committed to your 6-month check ups. When oral bacteria in the mouth accumulate, they form a sticky film called plaque. Plaque can harden into tartar within 48 hours if not removed. Tartar (also known as calculus) attaches to teeth and eats into tooth enamel and destroys gum tissues. Tartar can only be removed by dental professionals, which is what you feel being scraped off teeth during dental cleanings. Stay current with these visits so between-cleaning buildup can’t do extensive damage.
What you eat, when you eat and how much you eat is personal preference. We just want your smile to be its best and why we want to keep you in-the-know on ways to enjoy the best it can be! Simple measures can save you much in time and money by helping you avoid repairs that could have been prevented in the first place.
Begin with a no-charge consultation to discuss your smile. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and explain how we can support your goals for a healthy, confident smile. Call 910-254-4555 to schedule.