How your oral health changes everything you thought you knew about snacking

It’s the first day of school and you’re already late. You quickly shower, change, grab a banana, and rush out the door. After class, you stop for coffee to help get you through the day. Next up is that dreaded orientation seminar during which you’ll be spending most of the time thinking about lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, diet coke and a bag of chips.

Busy with classes and meetings, your first day is over and you finally head home. You relax, catch up with friends, and sit down for dinner. For dessert, you sneak in that slice of chocolate cake that your roommate knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s the end of the night and you do some homework, brush your teeth, and go to bed.

Everyone knows that snacking on sugary and processed foods is bad for your waistline. But what about the effects of an unhealthy diet on your oral health? Would you believe me if I told you that in this scenario, a banana did more harm to your teeth than that big slice of chocolate cake?

When you eat, the bacteria that naturally live in your mouth feed off of dietary sugars and produce the acid that, if not cleared away, erodes dental enamel. This demineralization process can lead to cavities and the bacteria can cause infection. So, why did your banana cause more harm than the chocolate cake? The answer lies in the texture. Soft and sticky foods provide the perfect environment for bacteria to adhere to and accumulate over time.

Snacking contributes to 2 major factors that increase the risk of dental caries development:

  1. Frequency of consumption
  2. Amount of time that food is left in contact with teeth

Snacking between meals leaves your teeth vulnerable to decay as you are constantly feeding these bacteria and keeping the environment inside of your mouth at an acidic pH. You ate the banana, and then drank coffee with milk and sugar an hour later. You ate lunch, had the chips, and before you realized, it was dinnertime. Food was left in contact with your teeth all day, forcing constant acidity and preventing neutralization. This pattern is recognized as Stephan’s Curve, pictured below.

Maria’s Top 5 Snacking Tips:

  1. Avoid added sugar and acidic beverages to keep a neutral pH.
  2. Brush at least twice a day, or after every meal, and floss before bed.
  3. Use fluoridated toothpaste and drink fluoridated tap water to encourage remineralization.
  4. Smart snacking foods include almonds, cheese, and fruits and vegetables with high water and fiber content.
  5. Crunchy carrots and apples are especially beneficial as they stimulate the production of saliva, which is a powerful remineralizing agent.

So make it your goal every morning to starve those bacteria by waking up early enough to enjoy a healthy breakfast and to brush your teeth before you go.

Please visit http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/nutrition/ to learn more about diet and dental health.

Stephan's Curve
Stephan’s Curve. Image used with permission from Sampson Dentistry .

Snacking on healthy foods beats snacking on “sugar treat pouches.” What snacking tips do you have? Leave them in the comments below!

~Maria Paz, Simmons College ’14, Predental

Maria Paz

Maria is currently a 4th year pre-dental student studying Neuroscience and Behavior at Simmons College in the Fenway area of Boston. She is the pre-dental chair for the pre-health liaison at her school. After graduation, she will be spending a gap year at home in Florida and plans to pursue a Master's degree before applying to dental school.

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1 Comment

  1. This blog is really nice and informative. Thanks for sharing.

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